Helmsley Backs Effort to Improve Rural Care for Type 1 Diabetes

Since 2003, Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) has been fostering a mentoring relationship between remote primary care physicians and the very much in-demand disease specialists that tend to congregate around cities. Initially developed to treat people with hepatitis C, which often leads to severe liver damage and cancer, ECHO was pulled out of its “pilot” phase with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It’s since gone global, its original structure tweaked to take on a variety of maladies, from dementia to AIDS to women’s health. Now, Helmsley is kicking in $6.4 million to bring ECHO into the realm of endocrinology, to take on one of Helmsley's big concerns, type 1 diabetes.

This is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect results-driven Helmsley to get involved with. You have a community-driven healthcare model that’s been wildly successful, that’s spread from its home at the University of New Mexico to 32 other U.S. sites, India, Ireland, Canada, and Uruguay—and you have a foundation that likes to give big sums of money to very promising, specific projects almost guaranteed to be successful. Not so in favor of risk, that Helmsley, but very generous when the moment is right.  

Dubbed “Endo ECHO,” the new iteration of the program faces new challenges and opportunities as it seeks to establish a similar sort of physician support network for primary caregivers serving patients with hormonal disorders. “Especially in rural, sparsely populated areas, an endocrinologist shortage means patients with type 1 and other complex diabetes conditions rely on under-trained primary care providers, often resulting in poor outcomes,” said Eliot Brenner, Program Director for the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Type 1 Diabetes Program. “Endo ECHO can bolster existing medical support by teaching primary care clinicians and community health workers on the ground to successfully treat the serious conditions they were not formally trained to manage.”

Going beyond just the funding provided to the University of New Mexico, the HCT will make a separate award to the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, providing for health policy analysts to assess Endo ECHO and offer suggestions for improvement. They are actively laying the groundwork for this program to be taken nationwide, much like the original ECHO, and, if successful, the payback could be phenomenal.