People to Know 2019: Shondra McCage
People ask me all the time: When it comes to effecting lasting change, what difference can one person really make? My answer is simple. One person can make all the difference. Case in point: Shondra McCage. For more than 20 years, Shondra has focused her considerable energies on helping American Indians, who have the highest rate of diabetes in the United States, get the health care and services they need. And yet in 2017, the centerpiece of her efforts was in jeopardy.
The Special Diabetes Program for Indians—a government initiative that funds prevention and treatment of the disease among American Indians and Alaska Natives—found itself on the chopping block for the first time in its then 20-year history. If it didn’t get a fresh round of government funding, the program would cease to exist.“The Special Diabetes Program for Indians supports effective clinical and community-based programs throughout Indian Country, and the loss of this funding would be detrimental to our communities,” says Shondra, program manager of the Diabetes Care Center at the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center in Ada, Oklahoma, and a Chickasaw tribal member.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) collaborated with key stakeholders to save the program, but the urgency increased when Shondra shared with me its on-the-ground impact. The program is associated with tremendous health improvements in American Indian and Alaska Native communities, such as a 54 percent drop in kidney failure rates from 1996 to 2013. The diabetes community, including leaders such as Shondra, came together to highlight the successes of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians, and it was renewed, with funding through September 2019. Shondra is one of the key advocates working with the ADA to push for a five-year renewal and increased program funding.
One of the things that’s so powerful about advocacy is that there are a lot of things people can’t control about having diabetes, but almost anyone can use their voice to advocate to improve the lives of people with diabetes. Sure, Shondra is just one person. But she’s using her voice to tell the story of how the disease impacts her community, and that is making all the difference.
LaShawn McIver, MD, MPH, is senior vice president of Government Affairs and Advocacy at the American Diabetes Association.
LaShaw McIver photograph by Kea Taylon/Imagine Photography