A community of MisFits unite

Business owner creates safe space through health, fitness

Anthony Oll-adikankwu Jr. started MisFits Nutrition with the intention of creating a safe space.

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

Growing up, Queens Village native Anthony Oll-adikankwu Jr. always felt like he didn’t fit in, or a misfit, if you will.

He has since reclaimed the word and turned it into something positive for himself and others when he opened MisFits Nutrition on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills.

Although MisFits Nutrition is listed as a vitamin supplement shop online, Oll-adikankwu Jr. said that his business’ mission encompasses so much more.

As a licensed practical nurse since 2012, health has always been important to Oll-adikankwu Jr. While one’s physical health is essential to their state of being, he also emphasizes the importance of mental health and having a life outside of work.

That is a main component of what motivated him to open up his business.

“People on Wall Street are committing suicide. You make tons of money, but your relationship with your child is strange, you’re never there, you can never make practices, you’re never there for your lover. It takes a toll. That’s not the kind of life that I want.” he said.

“It’s not just about making money…there’s plenty of things I could do just to make money,” he emphasized. “It’s about creating a space where people can come. A lot of people are dealing with depression. I’ve had people come in here, not even knowing me, they just come in, they feel good.”

Oll-adikankwu Jr. said that many people have entered his business to purchase an energy drink or snack, and have felt comfortable confiding in him about their hardships, which is exactly what he hoped for when envisioning MisFits.

MisFits Nutrition’s storefront.

The storefront is adorned with a Black-owned business flag and LGBTQ Pride flag, and the interior features a wall of positive affirmations in different languages to symbolize the diversity of Queens.

“I’m creating a space that’s not just a shake spot, but where people can come in and feel better and talk to a stranger in here. In Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, for example, people are very secluded and they just want you out the door,” he said. “People come in here, not knowing each other and they’ll be friendly enough to talk to each other. I’m creating a space, a safe haven, a judgment free zone where people can come to.”

Oll-adikankwu Jr. opened MisFits Nutrition four years ago, and runs the business on his own — along with the support of his family and the community at large.

As an Herbalife nutrition club, MisFits Nutrition offers a variety of healthy consumption options on its menu, including energy teas, shakes, bowls and donuts. Oll-adikankwu Jr. also sells a wide variety of supplements to promote a healthy lifestyle.

As a former personal trainer, Oll-adikankwu Jr. offers dance cardio classes every Tuesday and Saturday to keep the community active.

To contribute to the welcoming atmosphere of MisFits, he also offers various activities for people to take part in, including karaoke, game night and Sip N’ Paint, which is co-hosted by Tahina Marcette, who operates Marcette Studio.

MisFits Nutrition’s decor creates a welcoming vibe for all who enter.

“I wanted to create an outlet that’s family-oriented and not alcohol-centered for people to bring their family, kids and friends to be with one another and talk to other people,” Oll-adikankwu Jr. said.

Reflecting on his time spent donating drinks to healthcare workers at local hospitals, he brought up how the sudden switch up on the “healthcare heroes” trend of the COVID-19 pandemic left a bad taste in his mouth.

“People started appreciating nurses, and the pandemic created this trend of ‘healthcare heroes.’ I was collecting donations to deliver drinks to the hospitals not only to promote the business, but to kind of show that I’m trying to do something as well,” he said.

In fact, Goldman Sachs reached out to him with a proposition to contract him to deliver 100 shakes per day to the hospitals.

This was a challenge due to the fact that MisFits Nutrition is a one-man operation.

“I would always get new customers, but it was stressful,” he continued. “Goldman Sachs then extended the contract for another month, but when COVID numbers started dropping, and they canceled the contract.”

He wishes people on a larger scale would support healthcare workers and appreciate their work without an extenuating circumstance.

However, his customers are extremely supportive and believe in his mission.

“I go to Aesthetic Solutions right here, and I passed the shop. I saw the Black-owned sign and immediately went in. I just started my fitness journey, so I’m looking for all alternatives and not giving up my favorite, good foods and sweets,” said Maddie Felton, a regular customer.

“It’s a part of my routine, coming here. There’s just so many options and it makes it easier to stick to my meal plan without giving up the stuff I love.”

A fitness lover or not, Oll-adikankwu Jr. encourages all who are interested in nutritious drinks and snacks along with fun, interactive activities to stop by.

For updates and more information, follow MisFits Nutrition on social media.

Program empowers locals with dementia

‘Stories in the Moment’ engages folks through movement, storytelling

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

The community of those living with dementia is often underestimated—due to the lack of representation and positivity surrounding the subject.

A Rego Park resident is trying to change that in her neighborhood and its surrounding communities through “Stories in the Moment,” a co-creative dance, movement and storytelling program designed for people living with dementia.

The initiative was founded by Magda Kaczmarska, a dancer, choreographer, teaching artist and creative aging advocate.

Kaczmarska dedicates her career to empowering individuals and advocating for brain health-related issues, as shown through her other efforts including “DanceStream Projects,” “Every Body Moves” and “BrainFM.”

She’s also a fellow at the Atlantic Institute, focusing on expanding access, confidence and agency around brain health.

“I created ‘Stories in the Moment’ out of a desire to really extend the resource of dance as a vehicle for connection, community building and storytelling,” Kaczmarska said.

The Queens chapter of “Stories in the Moment” has been connecting virtually since April 29 of this year, meeting for one hour a few times each month.

“Dementia is a neurocognitive, degenerative condition. It influences people’s ability to feel like they can connect and communicate as fluidly as they may have in other points in their life, it might influence people’s fluidity in movement and it can influence memory,” she continued. “I think that dance can really be a unifying language, and can facilitate a democratic and equitable space for people to be able to connect, in community and in communication. In ‘Stories in the Moment,’ we connect around themes and topics that are really universal, and it can be as mundane as hobbies or favorite dishes in the kitchen, or it could be larger, like what community means for you.”

Although Kaczmarska initially formed “Stories in the Moment”  two years ago with Dementia Action Alliance, this local chapter was made possible for the Forest Hills, Rego Park and Kew Gardens communities through a partnership with Queens Community House, a nonprofit organization.

Wendy Kwan, director of Social Adult Day Services at QCH, said that the center is proud to partner with Kaczmarska and provide a home to localize her vision.

“Our mission is to really help the members of our community, to give them tools so that they can live successfully. I think Magda’s program really ties into that because it helps the members of our program who are physically frail or have memory loss to really engage with each other,” she said. “Even those that may have had a little harder time conducting on Zoom, we’ve seen them actually contribute to the programming in the ‘Stories in the Moment.’ So that’s been really exciting for me.”

Kaczmarska is a proud recipient of a grant from the Statewide Community Regrants program, a partnership between New York State Council on the Arts and Flushing Town Hall.

“It just felt like it’s like a stamp of approval from the community saying, ‘This is an engagement in the community that matters,’ she said. “And I felt like that was really meaningful.”

This Queens chapter of “Stories in the Moment” has been connecting virtually since April 29 of this year, meeting for one hour a few times each month.

Each session begins with an introduction and greeting, followed by warmups, moving together, group storytelling and a cooldown.

The series culminated with “Summer Celebrations,” a session to celebrate the community formed.

“I founded ‘Stories in the Moment,’ but because it’s a co-creative, community-based program, I think it’s really important to recognize that the program doesn’t exist without the individuals,” Kaczmarska said.

“It’s become and it continues to evolve because of the individuals that bring their voices into it,” she continued. “So I facilitate, but ultimately, it’s our program.”

Kaczmarska currently lives in Rego Park, and emigrated to the U.S. from Poland when she was a child.

She said that being a queer immigrant herself, she’s familiar with the feeling of being ostracized—one that folks with dementia often face.

I think as an immigrant, I have experienced what it’s like to be an outsider, and how important it is when you find, or you identify communities of belonging,” she said.

“They can be chosen communities and may not necessarily be your blood family, but I think over the course of my life, I’ve been privileged to have several, chosen communities that have felt like home and family to me,” she continued. “The heart behind the work that I do is to extend that healing power of community to others, and I do it through dance, because that’s my craft.”

Kaczmarska and the team at QCH all feel that dementia is underrepresented—even misrepresented—in society and in the media today.

Bringing programs like “Stories in the Moment” into the community not only helps people living with dementia become connected and empowered, but also shows the public that these individuals are just as capable of expressing their stories, artistry and emotions as they are.

“I’ve been really, really excited to connect with communities here, especially just recognizing that there’s still a lot of stigma in our community and the arts serve as a powerful way to kind of build dementia-friendly spaces to find shared language,” Kaczmarska said.

“I wanted to step into that need and partner with an organization—like Queens Community House—that has been really serving this community for years and especially over the course of the pandemic.”

Kaczmarska added that she is proud to have received a grant from Queens Council for the Arts, which will support 12 more sessions of “Stories in the Moment” with QCH.

Online sessions will begin later this month.

For more information about “Stories in the Moment” or to inquire about registering, contact Wendy Kwan at Queens Community House at 718-592-5757 ext. 230, or email [email protected]

Locals take control of their health

Last weekend, men ages 45 and up had the opportunity to take control of their health and get tested for prostate cancer.

On July 24, Mount Sinai’s Robert F. Smith Prostate Cancer Screening Mobile Unit was stationed at The Shops at Atlas Park, located at 8000 Cooper Avenue in Glendale.

Mount Sinai partnered with NYS Senator Joseph Addabbo to bring the hospital’s free PSA blood tests into the community.

This free screening was available to men who have never been previously diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer, whether or not they have health insurance.

“As men age it is vitally important that they take care of their prostate health through annual exams because if something is wrong, it is essential to catch prostate cancer early,” Addabbo said.

“Prostate cancer is one of the deadliest cancers in the U.S. and early detection is key to combating this illness. After the pandemic our previous provider of prostate cancer screenings went out of business so it took us some time to bring this service back to the community,” he continued. “I want to thank Mount Sinai and Atlas Park for their partnership in this event and for working with my team to set up this important free health screening for men across the district.”

Women will also have the chance to advocate for their health, through a free Mammogram Screening service in Maspeth.

On Wednesday, August 3, the American-Italian Cancer Foundation will have their Mammogram Bus located outside of the Maspeth Federal Savings Bank branch located at 56-18 69th Street, in Maspeth from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to provide free mammogram screenings to women who register for the event through Addabbo’s office.

In order to be eligible for the clinical breast exam, women must be between 40 and 79 years old with health insurance, or between 50 and 79 years old without health insurance.

They must currently live in New York City, and have not had a mammogram in the last 12 months.

Uninsured patients are welcome, there are no co-payments, and all deductibles are waived for this service.

Although registration is preferred, walk-ins will be accommodated on a limited basis.

Addabbo encourages residents to call his office at (718) 738-1111 or the American-Italian Cancer Foundation at 1-877-628-9090 to secure their appointment.

CB6 advocates for enhanced COVID protocols

Locals worry about increased positivity rate

As Omicron and its subvariants, BA.5 and BA.2.12.1 continue to affect New Yorkers, one Queens Community Board is taking action and spreading awareness where the city is lacking.

Earlier this month, Mayor Eric Adams and health officials discreetly removed the city’s COVID alert system, leaving it up to individuals to assess the data on their own.

NYC.gov provides daily, weekly, and monthly data regarding COVID-19 cases, including statistics in certain areas—Kew Gardens, Rego Park, and Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park among some of the most affected.

While positivity rates over 20 percent are already a cause for concern, Heather Beers-Dimitriadis, chair of Queens Community Board 6, worries that the numbers are actually higher than what is being reported.

“We remain concerned that we see an increase, especially in Queens, considering all we have endured in 2020,” Beers-Dimitriadis said. “We are concerned about the statistics, because there’s no longer that self reporting mechanism. So we are concerned that the positivity rate is not as accurate as it could be, because I don’t believe it takes the home testing into account.”

Beers-Dimitriadis argues that at-home COVID tests are important tools for taking precautionary measures, due to their rapid result time and fairly wide availability.

To keep them accessible to residents of Queens, Queens Public Library offers free at-home COVID-19 test kits on a first-come-first-serve basis at every location.

Through a partnership with the city’s Test and Trace Corps, test kits are available for pick up during regular business hours, until an hour before closing—with a limit of two test kits per person.

“When thinking about what [at-home tests] cost over the counter, we want to remove the economic barrier for people and get them to these tests,” Beers-Dimitriadis said. “We are grateful for Queens Public Library being a valued partner in our community, and stepping in here and being a distribution center for these tests.”

Beers-Dimitriadis pointed out that a simple family of four with one COVID-positive person goes through, at a minimum, 21 home tests during that seven-day period.

She added that the CB6 office has had a limited supply of at-home COVID tests as well as other PPE to distribute to the community, courtesy of Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi.

In response to the recent surge in cases, Beers-Dimitriadis and Frank Gulluscio, district manager of CB6, penned a letter to Councilwoman Lynn Schulman, asking her to support a short-term mask mandate until positivity rates go down.

In addition to serving Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, and Richmond Hill as a councilperson, Schulman also serves as chair of the City Council’s Committee on Health—which has jurisdiction over New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Emergency Medical Services, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

In the letter, CB6 also asks that the City Council work with the MTA to amplify its policy of mask wearing on public transit. One ride on a subway or bus will reveal that as many as half of riders no longer wear their masks in these settings.

Despite this new behavior of subway and bus riders, the MTA continues to inform riders of the mask requirement, through announcements and signage in stations as well as the words “Wear a Mask” in their social media screen names and bios.
Riders who refuse to wear a mask could still face a $50 fine.

“This new highly transmissible variant, plus an increasing number of tourists, coupled with our own neighbors traveling and students in summer programming we set the stage for case numbers to continue to rise,” the letter to Schulman says.
“We recognize that none of us want to go back to full masking, especially in the hottest part of the year. However, we must also recognize how crucial it is to keep our neighbors safe and healthy,” it continues. “We believe that if the variant is not halted in its tracks, it will negatively impact our capacity to get our city and our economy back on track.”

A staffer from Schulman’s office could not confirm or deny that she has seen the letter, but said that the councilwoman has actively been in contact with Mayor Adams to find a feasible solution for the increased case numbers in local communities.
CB6 has also been an advocate for other health issues concerning the city, such as monkeypox and skin cancer during the summer months. They have also shared resources for safe and legal abortions on their Twitter page.

In terms of COVID-19, Beers-Dimitriadis emphasized that the city’s shutdown of the alert system, not taking home tests into account for the data, and lessened presence of the Test and Trace Corps will not stop the community board from working on the ground.

“The ultimate goal is to keep the community safe, keep people able to go to work, keep students able to go to school and do those things safely, and knowingly safely… those tests do that,” she said. “For us as a community board, we want to make sure that we are alerting the community to every opportunity they can to engage with free testing, especially at the convenience of being able to do it at home.”

OPED: New hope for people with HIV

A new study holds promise for people living with HIV who have limited therapy options or rely on complex drug regimens

A new international study led by a researcher from New York-Presbyterian Queens, published in The New England Journal of Medicine on May 11, demonstrated the effectiveness of an investigational long-acting, first-in-class therapy for people with multi-drug resistant HIV – signaling the potential for a radically simplified drug treatment and improved compliance among patients living with HIV.

In the randomized controlled, double-blind trial known as “CAPELLA, injections beneath the skin of an investigational HIV agent called lenacapavir significantly suppressed the viral level in patients with HIV who were currently on a failing antiretroviral treatment regimen. Importantly, viral suppression remained high for six months.

If approved, the new therapy has the potential to be a game-changer in several ways, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer, director of the Dr. James J. Rahal, Jr. Division of Infectious Diseases at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens and a professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The encouraging results of the study offer hope for people living with HIV who have limited therapy options, as well as those who are reliant on complex drug regimens,” Dr. Segal-Maurer said. “Lenacapavir has the potential to be used as either a long-acting pill or a subcutaneous injection every six months, which anyone can be taught to do. I cannot even find the words to share what that means to all our patients, but especially those with limited or no treatment options, or whose unique circumstances make it difficult to engage in care.” 

However, she stressed, that patients still need to be highly adherent to the rest of their antiretroviral medications that make up their complete regimen.

Lenacapavir, from Gilead Sciences, is an investigational antiretroviral medicine called a capsid inhibitor that targets the cone-shaped shell of the virus and proteins important to viral reproduction. Previous research showed that lenacapavir interrupts multiple stages in the viral life cycle, helping to suppress the virus.

New York-Presbyterian Queens was one of 42 investigational sites for lenacapavir around the world.

Despite significant advances in antiretroviral treatments that have helped many people with HIV suppress the virus, there are still patients with treatment failures due to viral resistance or unacceptable side effects,” Segal-Maurer added. “These patients no longer have viral suppression and require treatment options that can be complex and difficult to adhere to, leading to further drug resistance. These challenges underscore the importance of new treatment options for people living with multi-drug resistant HIV infection.”

The phase II/III CAPELLA trial included 72 people living with HIV with a median age of 52, 75 percent of whom were men. Individuals were eligible for the study if they were age 12 and older, were currently on a failing drug regimen, and had developed resistance to at least two drugs from four main classes of antiretroviral medications (46 percent of patients in the study had resistance to all four major classes of antiretroviral medications). Half of the trial participants were randomized to receive oral lenacapavir or a placebo along with their existing medication regimen for 14 days.

The remaining 36 participants started taking lenacapavir pills at the beginning of the trial on top of a regimen of HIV medications designed to maximize effectiveness for these heavily treatment-experienced people. After 14 days on the oral drug, they, too, switched to the subcutaneous injections.

At the end of the lead-in period, 88 percent of participants receiving lenacapavir saw a significant drop in their viral level, compared with just 17 percent of those on the placebo. Trial participants randomized to receive lenacapavir also experienced an increase in white blood cells called CD4 T cells, critical to fighting the infection. Overall, the percentage of people with profoundly low CD4 T cells decreased from 24 percent to 0 percent. No one dropped out of the study as a result of drug-related side effects, according to Dr. Segal-Maurer.

The significance of the trial’s findings is profound. We’ve come a long way,” said Segal-Maurer, who has witnessed the evolution of HIV treatment over the decades, starting at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. “I was in medical school in the early to mid-eighties when the average lifespan between diagnosis and death was anywhere from weeks to months. We’ve gone from many pills multiple times a day to one pill a day to possibly even less. Now we’re in a place where if a patient can engage in care and take their medicine, they have an excellent chance for improved outcomes and a long lifespan.”

A version of this op-ed can be found on the New York-Presbyterian Queens “Health Matters” website.

Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer is a paid consultant for Gilead Sciences and director of Dr. James J. Rahal, Jr., Infectious Diseases Division at New York-Presbyterian Queens, and professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. She is the site principal investigator for a number of studies evaluating new investigational HIV antiretroviral therapies.

Meng helps secure $3 million for new labor and delivery wing at Elmhurst Hospital

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng and representatives from the office of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited Elmhurst Hospital to celebrate $3 million in federal funding secured for a new Labor and Delivery unit on the hospital’s fifth floor.

In honor of Women’s Health Month in May, Meng led a “wall-breaking” ceremony before touring the current Labor and Delivery unity to see where the future renovations will take place.

Federal funding for the initiative — which will support the hospital’s goal of improving health indicators for pregnant women and decreasing maternal and infant mortality rates — was made available under the Community Project Funding Program and through the offices of Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer.

Black and Native American women in the U.S. are three times more likely to die than white women from pregnancy-related causes, and black babies are twice as likely to die than white babies, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. While 700 pregnancy deaths occur per year, two-thirds of them are considered to be preventable.

Rep. Grace Meng and representatives from the office of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited Elmhurst Hospital to celebrate $3 million in federal funding secured for a new Labor and Delivery unit on the hospital’s fifth floor.

In New York City, black women have an eight times greater risk of pregnancy-related death than white women. They were also three times more likely than their white counterparts to experience severe maternal morbidity, which can include blood clots, kidney failure, stroke or heart attack.

Meng said she was proud to deliver the federal funds to the local hospital, enabling expanded access and care to families. Construction of the new hospital wing is scheduled for spring and summer 2022

“Elmhurst plays a critical role in the health and wellbeing of our communities, and I cannot wait until the renovation is completed,” Meng said. “All families deserve a modern, safe, and equitable maternal health care experience, and investments like this are needed to ensure that the hospital can continue to provide efficient, high-quality and state of the art services that local residents need and deserve. It is also crucial to meet the growing needs of the area. When the COVID-19 crisis began, NYC Health + Hospitals in Elmhurst was in the heart of the epicenter, and this project is an example of how we must build back better and stronger as we work to recover from the pandemic. I’m excited for this renovation to begin, and look forward to the upgrades benefiting Queens families for decades to come.”

Meng also took part in a patient baby shower co-sponsored by MetroPlusHealth, which included educational presentations on prenatal care, breastfeeding, safe sleep, nutrition, and the hospital’s doula program. Community-based organizations CommonPoint Queens and the Queens Museum also joined in the baby shower events. Following presentations, patients had the opportunity to win prizes by answering trivia questions related to well-baby care.

NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst CEO Helen Arteaga-Landaverde said that she is beyond ecstatic and grateful to lawmakers who will help see the project through to its completion..

“Our expectant mothers and newborns will greatly benefit from these investments in infrastructure and improving patient care and patient satisfaction at our facility,” Arteaga-Landaverde said. “We look forward to working closely with our federal legislators to ensure that Elmhurst has the resources it needs to meet the growing healthcare demands of our community.”

City’s New Top Doctor gives COVID briefing

Dr. Ashwin Vasan has taken over as the city’s top doctor at the two-year mark of the ongoing pandemic.

Officially taking the reins from Dr. Dave Chokshi on March 16, Vasan held his first briefing last week in Queens alongside President and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, Dr. Mitchell Katz and Director of NYC Test and Trace Corps, Dr. Ted Long.

“Although it’s only my first week on the job, I understand how important regular communication is with all of you,” Vasan said to the press. “While the losses of the last two years have been profound, we’ve also developed tools in that period that are saving lives, including testing, prevention and new treatments, like antiviral pills.”

“It’s an honor to be the city’s doctor. Something you’ll hear me talk a lot about is the emotional toll that this pandemic has taken on all of us. We have all been through so much over these past two years and continuing uncertainty about the future of COVID can certainly add to the strain on New Yorkers mental health and well being,” Vasan said.

As of March 21, the city’s seven-day and 28-day average positivity rates are trending in the right direction with 1.66 percent and 1.89 percent rates, respectively.

Although he said New York City is currently in a “low-risk environment”, Vasan said he and his team at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is monitoring the presence of the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron.

Dr. Celia Quinn said that ‘about 30 percent’ of cases in the city can be attributed to the subvariant, and that while it appears to be more transmissible than other strains of Omicron, it does not appear to cause more severe illness.

“I think the important thing to remember and to emphasize for New Yorkers is that currently, there’s no evidence that BA.2 causes more severe illness, increases risk of hospitalization, or that our current vaccines offer less protection against it,” Vasan said.

With just 55 percent of New Yorkers aged 65 or older who received their booster or additional dose, Vasan and his team stressed the importance of vaccines and reconnecting with health care providers.

As some mask mandates have been relaxed in city schools and other places, Vasan and Katz hesitated to say what it would take to lift a workplace vaccine mandate.

“People who have tried to predict what’s going to happen in the future for this pandemic have repeatedly found egg on their face, as they say, and I’m not going to do that here today,” he said.

Dr. Katz added, “Nobody has suggested that we should, you know, because polio levels are so low, we should say that schoolchildren shouldn’t be vaccinated for polio. I think vaccine mandates have a long and important history in public health.

“If you have childhood vaccinations, then everybody grows up to be vaccinated. So it turns out to be irrelevant, right? The point of childhood vaccinations is by doing it at childhood, you’re giving the person maximum benefit. And then they grow up as a whole cohort of people who are fully vaccinated.”

Don’t Forget the Purpose of Healthcare System

Americans should be deeply concerned about our “sick-care” health system. The system is designed to withhold the best medicines, medical devices, and operations until their health deteriorates, and then belatedly, rescue care is offered.
It’s a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to clinical care that puts patients at risk. There’s a far better alternative.
A truly patient-centric healthcare system would assess patients’ risk for heart attacks, diabetes, and other serious conditions, and then devote resources to preemptively reduce that risk while improving their quality of life. The current system limits access to care in the name of short-term savings, and ironically increases long-term spending.
Nowhere is this clearer than our approach to prescription drugs.
Politicians can get guaranteed applause by promising to slash the cost of medicines.
And this political drumbeat is increasingly reflected in policy efforts, whether it is the executive branch attempting to link drug prices in our country to those of other nations that employ government price controls, congressional legislation that would give the federal government greater price-controlling powers over drugs in the Medicare program, or a greater reliance on institutions like the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) that assigns a financial value to a person’s life in determining whether to grant patients access to innovative treatments.
We need to pursue a patient-risk framework that will accelerate the delivery of breakthrough treatments to those who need them most. Healthcare providers should use data analytics and clinical assessments to score the health risk for each patient and devote the necessary medical resources to reduce that risk.
Just consider how that’d change our approach to a disease like diabetes, which is particularly prevalent in minority communities. More than 16 percent of Blacks and nearly 15 percent of Hispanics live with the condition, compared to less than 12 percent of whites.
All told, it cost our country over $237 billion in direct medical costs in 2017. Of that, about $15 billion was spent on insulin, which helps patients keep the disease under control and live relatively normal lives.
A true healthcare system would conduct regular screenings for the roughly one in three Americans who are pre-diabetic and make it easy for patients to access medications.
Instead, our current sick-care system forces diabetes patients to pay a considerable share of insulin costs out of pocket. Many can’t afford it. Over 13 percent of diabetes patients have skipped medications or not filled prescriptions due to cost concerns.
As a result, they often suffer the worst complications. Lower limb amputations, which about 70,000 Americans with uncontrolled diabetes require each year, cost about $70,000 apiece.
In other words, we spend roughly $5 billion cutting off people’s feet and toes. That doesn’t begin to count the expenses associated with other complications, from kidney disease to blindness.
The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” really is true. According to the CDC, “effective blood sugar management can reduce the risk of eye disease, kidney disease, and nerve disease [resulting from uncontrolled diabetes] by 40 percent.”
If we don’t do more to predict patients’ health risks and then improve outcomes, then the trillions we invest in transportation, housing, energy, education, environment, and food have limited value.
At a time when historic progress is being made in treating diseases from cancer to Alzheimer’s, it makes little sense to focus narrowly on cutting drug costs rather than viewing healthcare spending holistically.

Gary A. Puckrein is president and chief executive officer of the National Minority Quality Forum.

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