The Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi (DFM) is in a civil war with the American Diabetes Association (ADA). DFM voted to disaffiliate from ADA after a decision was made to merge all the state diabetes corporations into one national corporation.
In this civil war, instead of sending soldiers, the ADA has sent lawyers. ADA has sued to seize all the assets of the DFM. DFM contends that the national organization has no right to dissolve the foundation’s board in Mississippi, and take away money from the state that has both the lowest per capita income in the country and the highest rate of diabetes.
“We didn’t feel giving up the Mississippi corporate status, sending any money we subsequently raised out of state, and dissolving our board of directors would serve Mississippians with diabetes,” said Mary Fortune, executive vice president of the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi. “We just feel like we want local control. It would be like the government coming in and saying there are no more state boundaries for Mississippi. You are not going to be a state any more.”
One other state, Rhode Island, also opposed the national merger, and voted to withdraw from ADA.
Fortune said the DFM has been affiliated with ADA since 1983, sending 34% of what was raised in Mississippi to the national office. The DFM has also sent voluntary research contributions over the years. The amount sent from Mississippi to ADA over the past 15 years has totalled $1.5 million.
Fortune said the DFM board of director balked at having Mississippi turn over its resources to help aid diabetes foundations in other states which haven’t done as good a job raising money and funding programs.
“Those affiliates in debt wanted the merger,” Fortune said. “Those affiliates that are managed well weren’t ready for this process. And there was no hard data showing that this was going to be a better way to do it. We do not feel having a regional office in Dallas is going to serve the people of Mississippi at the grassroots level. We also think it is not really cost effective to create another, regional office.
“The money that has been raised in Mississippi has been raised by Mississippi volunteers. If you merge our assets into a regional
ational coffer, we would have no guarantee as to what we would get back. And, second of all, we might be helping those states that aren’t as well managed financially. We feel it would have been better to go in and help those affiliates who needed help, rather than change the structure of the whole country.”
Fortune said that the reorganization of the ADA would replace state board’s with a regional board and office. But she said she has seen no evidence that the regional office will save money, or do a better job delivering services to people with diabetes.
The DFM voted to disaffiliate and return to its original independent status. The group was originally founded in 1965 as the Diabetes Association of Mississippi. She said if the group is allowed to continue to function, it will have more resources to fund research, conduct educational programs, and provide services.
ADA national office spokesman Jerry Franz said ADA’s action was taken to better serve people throughout the country who have diabetes. He said ADA determined that the merger would free up more resources for the local community level by reducing overlapping administrative functions.
“Only Mississippi and Rhode Island have elected not to join the national organization,” Franz said. “The vast majority believed there was value in moving towards one corporation where you do get some cost savings. I think certainly in one corporation you have the overall resources to help states that need some help while others are strong.”
Franz said any funds raised under the ADA belong to that organization, and that is why ADA is suing DFM for that money. But that doesn’t mean that Mississippi won’t receive services from ADA.
“We intend to continue to serve the state of Mississippi,” he said. “We don’t intend to abandon the people in Mississippi with diabetes. If there is no reconciliation, we will be setting up an office this year somewhere in the Jackson metro area. Right now things are somewhat on hold because of the dispute.”
There are an estimated 240,000 Mississippians with diabetes, and 80,000 are undiagnosed.
Complications of diabetes can include heart disease, strokes, amputations, kidney failure and blindness.
“We still have many people losing their limbs, kidney, their eye and lives to diabetes in Mississippi,” Fortune said. “I don’t think the average person realizes the devastation caused by diabetes. The state has $1.5 billion annually in direct and indirect costs for diabetes.”