By Jarred Meeks
Witham Health Services’ Executive Director Jeff Byrum said the company’s mission isn’t to increase market shares and profit margins but to serve Boone County, in part by opening an endocrinology practice in July and offering breast cancer services in the summer and pulmonary/respiratory services in the fall.
“Growing up in Zionsville, I understand, with small business owners, what makes (a business) successful is when a customer stays local and shops local,” Byrum said. “And what we take pride in at Witham is we provide health care local.”
On May 20 at Zionsville Town Hall, the Zionsville Chamber of Commerce conducted a business breakfast, giving Witham Health officials the opportunity to inform community members of the health network’s plans to expand offerings in the county, particularly its plans for a new endocrinology practice in the Zionsville medical center at 1650 W. Oak St.
Dr. Neha Gavin spoke at the event and said early in her career, she knew she wanted to promote overall public health, not simply treat patients when they have a health issue. That goal led her to the practice of endocrinology, the study of hormones. Gavin said the staggering rise in Type 2 diabetes is a major concern.
Type 2 diabetes, a chronic and progressive condition, impairs a patient’s ability to metabolize glucose, or sugar, in the blood, which causes high blood sugar levels, gets worse with time and can lead to severe health issues.
Gavin started working at Witham seven years ago, when it first provided endocrinology services. By adding a full-time endocrinologist in Zionsville, Gavin said Witham should be better equipped to tackle Type 2 diabetes.
“Sugar is in almost everything we eat,” Gavin said.
An overabundance of sugar in one’s diet can lead to insulin resistance, a condition where insulin, a hormone which normally distributes glucose to cells as energy, is unable to perform its designated task. And when diabetics become insulin resistant, blood sugar levels rise.
“Unfortunately, once the sugar levels in the blood rise, someone who has diabetes wouldn’t necessarily feel symptoms from that,” Gavin said. “They wouldn’t necessarily know that was happening, so sometimes there is a delay in diagnosis, and end-organ damage has already started to take effect before someone has been diagnosed with diabetes.”
With its new endocrinology practice, Witham officials want to address the complexity of the condition by targeting it from different angles.
“There is so much to learn with this disease,” Gavin said. “At Witham, the administration has agreed to let us have our own educators in-office with me. This is very, very rare. These are often not billable services. After a patient has seen me, an educator will go in right after I’m done with the patient and talk about exactly the things we need to talk about, so it’s not cookie-cutter. It’s specifically tailored to their needs.”
Educators also help patients talk to health insurance companies, teach them how to administer injections, get samples, create meal plans and provide overall support, Gavin said. The tailored approach to endocrinology is what Witham officials said they envision providing at the new practice in Zionsville.
Witham also uses the newest technologies to help combat the condition, such as continuous glucose monitoring devices that enable patients to avoid constantly pricking their fingers to monitor their blood sugar levels.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 million people have diabetes, and 90 percent are unaware of their condition. The CDC estimates 90 to 95 percent of all diabetics have Type 2 diabetes.
Byrum said breast cancer services would be offered at Witham’s Anson location in the summer, at 6085 Heartland Dr. in Zionsville, where a breast surgeon will see patients. At the same location later in the fall, a pulmonary/respiratory clinic will open for the first time in Zionsville.