Time to cheer on the struggling YMCA

It’s hard to think of another health organization doing business in more communities than the YMCA, and working harder than ever to keep the doors open.

The not-for-profit operates more than 2,700 locations in hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S., and is known for its low-frills gyms, swimming pools, weight rooms and after-school programs.

But the YMCA is surrounded by tough competition on all sides, from high-end gyms to yoga studios. Every few months, another headline pops up about a YMCA location shutting its doors or canceling a major service in Washington D.C. or Topeka, Kansas, or Grimes, Iowa.

It’s a tough time to run a corner gym.

That’s why two events in recent days are giving YMCA supporters a few reasons to cheer, in Indianapolis and nationally.

First, the national event: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services just hailed the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program a huge success. The federal government found it saved $2,650 for each person enrolled in the program for 15 months, compared to people not in the program.

As a result, Medicare will expand coverage to the YMCA and other approved “lifestyle change programs” that include diabetes prevention, a move likely to attract people trying to prevent the disease or manage its symptoms.

“This program has been shown to reduce health care costs and help prevent diabetes, and is one that Medicare, employers and private insurers can use to help 86 million Americans live healthier,” said Sylvia M. Burwell, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Indiana was front and center in the YMCA program, which began as a study in 2009 through a partnership with the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis and Indiana University.

The 12-month program included 16 weekly core sessions, followed by monthly maintenance sessions, delivered in a classroom setting by trained lifestyle coaches.

The program was adopted by the YMCA of the USA in 2010 and became a national model for diabetes programs, which are now offered at 173 YMCAs across the country, with more than 40,000 participants.

Medicare beneficiaries who enrolled in the program lost about 5 percent of their body weight—enough to substantially reduce the risk of future diabetes.

“We are thrilled that the Y has been able to transform health care in such a positive way,” said Eric Ellsworth, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis.

He said such a move wouldn’t have been possible without hospital community partners that referred patients.

About 30 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, resulting in two deaths every five minutes, according to the HHS. Another 86 million have a high risk of developing diabetes. That’s because one in every three adults has prediabetes, a condition that arises when blood glucose levels are higher than normal and increases a person’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes, as well as for heart disease and stroke.

Now, the YMCA can boast of a program that works and can get Medicare reimbursements to help pay for the programs.

And now for the other bit of good news: Last week, a foundation established by the OrthoIndy physicians group agreed to contribute $3 million for construction of a YMCA on the northwest side.

The $10 million facility in Pike Township will be named OrthoIndy Foundation YMCA. So far, the YMCA has raised $7 million to fund the facility. Architectural planning is under way, but there is no timetable yet for construction.

It is expected to be built on 12 acres donated to the YMCA in 2007 by the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township.

Looks like a time to give a rousing cheer to the YMCA. Does anyone know of a suitable, high-energy song and dance number?

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