How peer mentors are helping 1199SEIU members manage their diabetes

Crain’s Health Pulse

The 1199SEIU benefit funds are expanding a peer-mentoring program initially tested in home-care workers with diabetes to cover members in a range of professions with various chronic disease.

The funds enlisted River Edge, N.J. ⎻based InquisitHealth to facilitate the program. For the diabetic pilot, started in 2015, InquisitHealth helped recruit 1199 members with well-managed type 2 diabetes to serve as mentors to members from similar backgrounds who were not managing the disease well. Participants were the able  to communicate through Inquisit’s messaging platform, Mentor1to1, without exchanging personal information to address their specific challenges.

The diabetes pilot included about 100 mentees and 10 mentors. The mentees reduced their HbA1c levels━a measure of how much glucose is in the bloodstream over a three month period━by an average of 1 percentage point, putting them at the lower risk of complications, according to Dr. Van Dunn, chief medical officer of the 1199SEIU Benefit Funds. The mentors also experienced a slight improvement in their HbA1c levels.

“If you can control someone’s HbA1c, you can reduce heart disease , stroke, vascular diseases and amputations, and those all add extra costs,” said Dunn.

The benefit funds did not disclose how much was spent on InquisitHealth’s services and said it was too soon to calculate savings generated by the pilot program. But 1199 estimated it would save “several thousand dollars per member above the cost of the program” based on its early success.

“We have to see if that holds with a larger population, but I am very optimistic,” said Dr. Celia Shmukler, medical director for work-site wellness and member-assistance programs.

In addition to extending the diabetes peer-mentoring program to nurses, technicians and other healthcare professionals in 1199SEIU, the benefit funds are working on rolling out programs for other diseases.

There is already a program available for pediatric asthma, in which parents of children with well-controlled asthma, mentor other patients whose children have asthma, said Dunn.

Other disease that may benefit from the program include hypertension, sickle cell anemia and prediabetes, according to the funds’ announcement.

InquisitHealth has worked with major healthcare providers in New York including New York-Presbytarian and Montefoire Health, according to its website. Dr. Ashwin Patel, chief medical officer at InquisitHealth, said the company’s model is particularly aligned with the mission of 1199SEIU.

“Peer-to-peer mentoring exemplifies the union ethos of members helping members while delivering significant improvements in health outcomes,” Patel said in a statement.