How one Niagara Casinos employee advocated for continuous glucose monitoring coverage

When it came to asking his employer to add continuous glucose monitoring to its benefits package, John Whitehead, a level-two food server at Niagara Casinos, went all in.

He’s had type 1 diabetes for years, and lived through many technological developments to help manage his condition. While he says blood glucose monitoring represented a major improvement, it still left some things to be desired.

“It’s a great tool, but it still is so limiting because it gives me a number, but where’s that number going? Is it going up? Is it going down? And is it going up or down slowly or rapidly? [That] makes a big difference, especially if I’m about to get into a car and drive.”

Blood glucose monitoring gives patients with diabetes a snapshot of their current glucose levels a few times a day, while continuous glucose monitoring is more akin to a movie, says Whitehead. That’s why he decided to approach his employer about adding continuous glucose monitoring to its benefits package.

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Right away, he encountered a challenge. Niagara Casinos had just updated its benefits plan for the year and the changes had been communicated to staff, so Whitehead had almost a full year to prepare his arguments. When the human resources team got a look at what he prepared, they were highly impressed.

Whitehead didn’t simply ask for the new benefit, says Colleen Falco, vice-president of human resources at Niagara Casinos, he asked to make a presentation.

“We went in with a completely open mind,” she says. “We had done some preliminary analysis and knew that the costs were extremely high based on what we thought take-up might be for the plan. But when we heard from John . . . he delivered so much data, but from a strong business case. He put together a narrative around the benefit to the employer, and he focused a lot on the cost savings from an absenteeism perspective and how the cost of the benefit . . . would pay for itself readily by having reduced absenteeism overall.”

Whitehead outlined other benefits. He brought in a colleague who cared for a child who also had type 1 diabetes, which added pathos to the weight of his argument.

Read: Managing diabetes in the new era of glucose monitoring technology

As well, he said continuous glucose monitoring would play a significant role in allowing him to do his job better. If he were in the middle of a shift and was able to be forewarned about a problem with his insulin or sugar levels, it could help prevent a serious reaction, or even simply help him feel his best so he could bring his full self to the task at hand.

“I used to freeze at work, where I’d literally become almost like a statue because my body would just stop working because I had such a low blood sugar. I couldn’t do my job,” says Whitehead. “And as a proud man, that is so heartbreaking, not being able to do my job. . . . All these things happened, until CGM came into my life and now it’s never happened. I’ve never once had a day where I had to stop work.”

The journey towards adding continuous glucose monitoring to the benefits plan was a great example of management and employees working as one team, says Falco.

Indeed, she says, after Whitehead made his case, it took some serious advocacy for the company’s insurer to consider adding the service. Niagara Casinos experienced a fair amount of pushback from the beginning, she says, but now the treatment is becoming a more standard offering among insurer. Currently, the company shares the cost of the treatment with the employees who are using it.

“When you look in hindsight, when a benefit is added and a decision is made, and whether it has netted out as you’d hoped or anticipated . . . it’s one of those moments where you know you’re making a difference as an employer in the lives of your employees,” says Falco.

Read: How employers can support staff with diabetes-related hypoglycemia