From the Head to the Heart: Key Learnings to Improve Cardiovascular Health
By James W. Blasetto, MD, MPH, FACC
Across the country, nonprofit, grassroots organizations conduct innovative programs designed to reduce the impact of the number one cause of death in the U.S., cardiovascular disease. Their success depends not only on funding, resources and staffing, but also finding the answers to critical questions: How do you build effective programs and demonstrate their long-term impact, not only on people’s lives but the organization as well? How do you find what works, and what doesn’t?
At the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation, we seek to improve cardiovascular health by awarding Connections for Cardiovascular HealthSM (CCH) grants to U.S.-based nonprofit organizations conducting health programs at the community level. We understand that these programs require more than financial support to be effective. That’s why we work with our grant awardees to build capacity and identify key learnings.
This year, the Foundation decided to draw on the knowledge and experience of its CCH grant awardees to discuss answers to some of the questions above. Representatives of nine CCH grant awardees, along with Foundation trustees, participated in four separate roundtable discussions across the country to share their key learnings about how to improve cardiovascular health.
Here are some highlights from each roundtable discussion, including the one I had the privilege to attend in Charleston, W.Va. (and click on the links to watch these discussions):
In Picayune, Miss., we celebrated the work of two long-time CCH grant awardees, Manna Ministries Inc. and Mallory Community Health Center. Manna Ministries received its third grant for its Heart 2 Heart Initiative, and Mallory Community Health Center received its fourth grant to begin its Take Control of Your Health program. Both organizations reach uninsured and underserved people in a state with some of the nation’s highest rates of cardiovascular disease, obesity and poverty.
Representatives of Manna Ministries and Mallory Community Health Center agreed that behavior change is a critical, and often challenging, component of their work. It extends to debunking myths about chronic disease and ensuring that people understand the purpose of primary care. The common theme throughout the discussion was a focus on motivation and individualized care.
Van Nuys, Calif. was the meeting place for second-year grant awardee, Westminster Free Clinic, and first-time grant awardee, Mid Valley Family YMCA. Westminster’s Corazones Sanos (Healthy Hearts) program and the YMCA’s Active Su Corazon (Activate Your Heart) program both target Latinos in southern California.
The Mid Valley Family YMCA established its program to educate and empower the local Latino community about heart health. They took into account barriers to participation, and as a result they offer classes in Spanish and provide childcare. Westminster Free Clinic uses Latino teen volunteers to lead program activities and work with local grocery stores to offer healthier foods. Westminster also noted that many of their participants hesitate to ask questions during doctors’ visits; therefore, they work closely with them to ensure they understand medical terms such as high cholesterol and what they can do about it.
In Charleston, W.Va., we learned from West Virginia Health Right, Inc. and St. Mary’s Health Wagon, both of whom are conducting their second CCH-funded programs – Sustainable Changes and Lifestyle Enhancement (SCALE) and Heart Health 1, 2, 3, respectively. Their programs provide medical care and health education in the Appalachian region, an area often characterized by lack of access to both.
West Virginia Health Right representatives attributed their program’s weight loss success to an emphasis on cultural sensitivity. Their team helps participants to find healthier recipes for regionally popular meals and learn about financially accessible diet options. St. Mary’s Health Wagon explained the rationale behind their use of a mobile clinic. Due to the geography of the region, people often have trouble getting to healthcare providers. St. Mary’s found that by delivering healthcare to the “doorsteps” of Appalachian residents, they could provide more screening opportunities and build trust in the community.
Three first-time CCH grant awardees gathered in Philadelpia to share how they are beginning or expanding their heart health programs with support from the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation. Drexel University’s Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services, City Health Works and the Gaston & Porter Health Improvement Center Inc. all operate in urban areas on the East Coast.
Representatives of each organization highlighted some of the challenges faced by their populations, ranging from language and literacy barriers, to racial disparities in health status. Drexel representatives explained their focus on resilience as a key component of their heart health program. By building teens’ “innate ability” to bounce back from trauma, they become better equipped to manage stress and make healthy lifestyle choices. Representatives of the Gaston & Porter Health Improvement Center discussed the importance of culturally appropriate, relatable mentors. Their program for mid-life African American women is led by previous program graduates. Similarly, City Health Works uses health coaches from the same backgrounds as they clients they serve. Each group spoke about the value of funding preventive health initiatives.
Each year, other trustees and I have the pleasure of meeting one-on-one with these groups and seeing the incredible impact of their programs. Participants are losing weight, reducing their blood pressure and Hemoglobin A1C levels, learning more about nutrition and increasing their physical activity. At the organizational level, program leaders are sharing proven strategies to improve cardiovascular health.
These discussions are the first step in sharing program success with others working to improve cardiovascular health in their communities. By demonstrating the value of innovative, locally tailored interventions and offering insight on how to improve these efforts, we hope that others will be better equipped to carry on this work. In doing so, I believe we can make an enduring impact on cardiovascular health.
Dr. James Blasetto is the Chairman of the Board of the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation and Vice President of US Medical Affairs, Evidence Generation at AstraZeneca. He also is a Fellow in the American College of Cardiology.
Pictured top of page: Left to right: Chad Maender, Executive Director, Mid Valley Family YMCA; Joni Novosel, Community Services Director, Dignity Health Northridge Hospital Medical Center; Juan De La Cruz, VP of Community Development, YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles; Lisa Safaeinili, MPH, RD, Executive Director, Westminster Free Clinic; Karla Toledo, Teen Volunteer, Westminster Free Clinic; Esperanza (Espy) Gonzalez, Case Manager, Westminster Free Clinic; Timothy J. Gardner, MD, Trustee, AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation; and Rich Buckley, President, AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation