LifeCare Alliance is perhaps best known for being the Midwest's leading provider of Meals-on-Wheels. Diabetes management, however, has become an increasing part of its caseload and care for seniors.

A little more than 15 years ago, LifeCare Alliance brought the Columbus Cancer Clinic under its umbrella to help it dramatically increase the number of clients it could serve. The merger accomplished just that, but an added benefit was a reduction in operating costs of 43 percent. 

Chuck Gehring, president and CEO of the nonprofit, expects to achieve similar results with the August merger with Diabetes Dayton, a nonprofit that provides programs and services to help people suffering from the chronic condition. He should know, because he’s got some experience with this.

LifeCare Alliance merged with the Central Ohio Diabetes Association (CODA) three years ago. That nonprofit and the one in Dayton are the last two diabetes service organizations left in the state after ones in other cities went broke. CODA had lost $400,000 in the two years before the merger. Gehring moved the group into LifeCare Alliance’s building, consolidated operations and “got the loss taken care of.” 

“Diabetes Dayton, because of their size, they couldn’t take everybody that needed help,” Gehring says. “At LifeCare Alliance, we take everybody. Together we’ll be bigger and stronger.”

What’s raised in Dayton stays in Dayton

Diabetes Dayton has always been important to the biggest city in Montgomery County. But during a pandemic, when people have lost jobs and the health insurance that goes with them, the nonprofit stayed open to provide “vital services” to those affected by the chronic condition. 

That’s according to a video speech by Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley that was played at an Aug. 27 press conference announcing the merger with LifeCare Alliance, one of the oldest and largest nonprofits in Central Ohio. 

Whaley cited some stark statistics: Diabetes is the No. 1 reason for hospital visits in the city, and Montgomery County’s population has a higher incidence of diabetes (almost 14%) than Ohio (11.2%) and the U.S. (10.5%). Becoming part of LifeCare Alliance will allow Diabetes Dayton to reach more people in need, she says. 

LifeCare Alliance is perhaps best known for being the Midwest’s leading provider of Meals-on-Wheels. Diabetes management, however, has become an increasing part of its caseload and care for seniors. Gehring says 55 percent of its Meals-on-Wheels clients have the condition. Diabetes management also is an essential way the agency partners with the medical community and insurance companies to provide effective intervention for positive client outcomes. 

The partnership will increase access to health care and strengthen and expand current services provided by both organizations. Gehring says Diabetes Dayton’s services and programming will continue and its name and logo will stay the same.

“Every dollar raised for Diabetes Dayton stays with Diabetes Dayton,” he said at the press conference.

Gehring plans to hire a development professional to raise money for Diabetes Dayton. A more stable organization is expected to eliminate operating redundancies and reduce operating costs. That means Diabetes Dayton won’t have to pay someone to handle its accounting—LifeCare Alliance will do it for them.  

Kelly Gamble, Diabetes Dayton board chair, also described the merger as “a win for the community” and for the patients, families and kids it serves, including at its Camp Ko-Man-She summer camp. In addition to the camp, the nonprofit puts on education classes, has a wellness series, cooking classes and emergency supply assistance. It has been in operation since 1963.

Pandemic impact

LifeCare Alliance offers an array of health and nutrition services to older adults and those living with health or disability challenges in Central Ohio. It was formed in 1898 as the Instructive District Nursing Association and was Columbus’ first in-home health care agency and Ohio’s first Visiting Nurse Association, services it still provides today.

Gehring said the organization has been deeply affected by Covid-19. Before the pandemic, LifeCare Alliance was delivering about 3,500 meals a day—a number that rose to 5,500. That surge in demand coincided with a decline in volunteers, many of whom come from companies across Central Ohio as part of community give-back initiatives. Since mid-March, however, about 1,500 new volunteers signed on to help, offsetting some of the loss. Before the pandemic, 70 percent of meals were delivered by volunteers—a number that shrank to 55 percent during the health crisis. Since March 1, 29 workers have been hired to handle the extra volume, bringing LifeCare’s staff to 228.

Gehring is proud that LifeCare Alliance serves everyone who qualifies—there is no waiting list. CARES Act funding has helped the nonprofit operate during the pandemic along with local government funding and money from corporate backers and the Columbus Foundation. 

While many organizations were caught flat-footed by the pandemic, LifeCare Alliance was not. Twelve years ago it launched a pandemic planning group that developed best practices for safe meal delivery. But meal delivery isn’t all the organization does. Many of the clients it serves are bedridden or in wheelchairs, so employees have to enter homes—pandemic or not—including to bathe people. They are frontline workers who are serving what Gehring calls the pandemic’s “target population”—the most vulnerable among us. 

LifeCare Alliance has had to restructure its operations so social distancing can be achieved in its three facilities. Gehring also instituted a $1 an hour bonus for hourly workers for six weeks to put a little extra money in peoples’ pockets. As the pandemic has persisted, he’s made constant communication a priority, whether in group calls or actual notes he’ll send into the facilities to remind people to socially distance and wear their masks. 

“I sit in my office and try to coordinate all this, but it’s our people who have really been out on the front lines,” Gehring says. “Communication has been really important. I thank our people constantly.”

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.