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News & Press: Health Centers in the News

Catherine’s Helps Patients Live Heart Smart

Wednesday, May 22, 2019  
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Each May marks National High Blood Pressure Education Month, as well as Stroke Awareness Month. The two are intimately connected. Many medical professionals call hypertension the silent killer because it doesn’t often present with symptoms. Instead, over time, uncontrolled high blood pressure can quietly damage your blood vessels, heart, eyes, kidneys, and brain — with sometimes-fatal consequences, such as heart failure or stroke.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 75 million adults in the United States have high blood pressure — and only about half have their condition under control. As a result, high blood pressure and its resulting complications costs the United States $48.6 billion every year.


However, checking everyone’s blood pressure at all points of contact with the health care system can help more people understand their condition and receive the appropriate treatment, whether that includes medication or lifestyle changes. But for real success, the work that comes after the diagnosis is most important. At community health centers like Catherine’s Health Center in Grand Rapids, patients work with their care team to draft a treatment plan and access wraparound support services that position them for heart-healthy success.


Nearly ten years ago, Catherine’s Health Center began participating in Michigan’s WISEWOMAN Program, which focused on screening, risk identification, and risk reduction strategies related to cardiovascular disease. In addition to traditional clinical interventions, the 150 women participating in the WISEWOMAN program at Catherine’s Health Center had access to one-on-one health coaching, free membership to a weight loss or diabetes prevention program, free gardening supplies and gardening education support, and referrals to community partners who could assist them in making healthy lifestyle behavior changes.


“We saw great results and realized that all of our patients could benefit from these strategies,” said Karen Kaashoek, RN, MBA, executive director at Catherine’s Health Center. “That’s why we started Live Heart Smart, which was similar to the WISEWOMAN program but designed to meet the needs of all people and genders.”


AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation Connections for Cardiovascular HealthSM first funded the program in 2012, and since then, Catherine’s Health Center has grown the Live Heart Smart Program to meet the unique needs of its community. First, they added navigators to help patients get and stay insured, making it more likely that they’d be able to afford and maintain the care they needed. However, that was just the beginning. Once the program started to accept more patients with complicated, comorbid conditions, care managers joined the team. These care managers helped program participants coordinate services, manage medications, and more, leading to better clinical outcomes and engagement. Catherine’s Health Center also identified behavioral health care as a critical component of program success and made sure patients had access to those services, too.


Now, patients with hypertension who seek care at Catherine’s Health Center are guided through every step of the process. “Many low-income people feel helpless and hopeless,” Kaashoek said. “They have doors shut on them all the time. Our goal was to really engage patients as powerful players in their health care journey.” Catherine’s Health Center manages this by providing a menu of customizable health interventions designed to remove barriers that prevent people from becoming partners in their health.


It’s not just about medication and medication adherence, either. Patients are paired with health coaches who help with screenings and manageable lifestyle changes, such as better nutrition, increased activity, and smoking cessation, through motivational interviewing and stages of change assessment. The program also offers classes and activities, such as support groups, a community gardening program, healthy cooking classes, and indoor walking programs.


The results speak for themselves. According to Catherine’s Heart Smart Program outcome analysis, clinical indicators continue to improve across the board. During the last six months of 2018, 74 percent of Heart Smart program participants had dropped their blood pressure under 140/90 (the widely recognized high blood pressure marker), 69 percent had brought their total cholesterol under 200, 43 percent of patients lost weight, and 68 percent dropped their hemoglobin A1C under seven. Program participants also showed modest increases in healthy behaviors, including increasing physical activity, eating better, and smoking cessation.



This isn’t just a localized phenomenon. Health centers’ ability to provide innovative, whole-person care and design programs that fit their patients’ needs is a large part of why they have higher rates of hypertension control than private physicians — 62 percent versus 48 percent, respectively.


Meeting people where they are, acknowledging their personal circumstances, and giving them realistic options is critical to long-term blood pressure management. Catherine’s vision to expand the Live Heart Smart Program and its resulting success is a true testament to the foundation of community health centers to improve the health and well-being of the community members it serves. 

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