By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
It’s easy to focus on the emotional side of one’s heart health, but Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s hospital wants to make sure Milwaukee residents recognize their physical heart health too. On Feb. 13, they launched, “Be of Good Heart,” their new community wellness outreach program.
In its first year, Ascension and its partner Urban Church Wellness congregations, plan to screen 2,000 people for free, for hypertension and diabetes. These chronic diseases often lead to heart diseases and death if not treated correctly, and unfortunately often go undetected.
To celebrate the kickoff of the program, Ascension held a luncheon and hosted several keynote speakers. The goal of the luncheon, in addition to celebrating the initiative, was to educate and support at-risk Milwaukee residents.
Dr. Joshua Liberman, a cardiologist at Ascension spoke about heart disease and the health disparity that continues to divide the city. He said that this hospital represents all the advances and wonders of medical technology, but not everyone in Milwaukee benefits from this hospital.
Liberman explained that this disadvantage among Milwaukee residents is due in part to their socioeconomic status. He added that of the 72 counties in Wisconsin, Milwaukee was listed the worst for heart disease with its residents at double the risk.
“Our zip codes are now more important than our genetic codes,” he said referring to the fact that 25,000 people have undiagnosed diabetes. Of that number, 40% of African Americans go undiagnosed.
Hypertension if untreated leads to heart attacks or strokes while diabetes can result in kidney failure, blindness and limb amputation.
“The sad thing about these conditions is that there’s treatment available,” Liberman said. “It’s cheap and effective.”
Supporting Liberman’s claims was his former patient and heart attack survivor, Grady Crosby.
Crosby, Vice President of Johnson Controls, suffered a heart attack on Jan. 15, 2017. He told the crowd,
“I was somewhat aware but not totally aware,” of heart attack symptoms.
For years, Crosby had been ignoring his body’s issues, which later indicated bad heart health. He put forth minimal effort instead of choosing to focus on external forces. Eventually, all those issues caught up with him and Crosby’s wife drove him the few blocks from their house to Ascension’s emergency room only to discover he was having a heart attack.
“There was something going on that I needed to address,” he said.
He began working out and taking his medication. His efforts have helped him maintain better heart health and eradicate his type 2 diabetes. He stressed to the crowd that when tackling one’s health it’s not an immediate change, but it is a necessary one.
“Our people need help to stop masking symptoms and start giving them attention,” he said. Screenings make it easier to pay attention.
Lisa Froemming, the Vice President of Philanthropy at Ascension, helped create “Be Of Good Heart.” She explained the concept came together in a day. According to Froemming, Ascension wanted to address not only these chronic diseases but health disparity as well which resulted in reaching out to Urban Church Wellness.
Ebenezer Church has been part of Ascension’s Health Resource Center for years, with Nurse Julia Means who’s worked there for 23 years.
“In that time, we’ve done great things,” she said.
These things include a food pantry which receives nearly 1,000 people a month, which makes it easier to screen people since they’re already there.
According to Means, it’s at Ebenezer that people often discover they have heart disease or diabetes, and it’s there they find the support system they need. Heart disease can be caused by stress, and sometimes when the cuff goes on people open up, Means said.
People tell her if they’re experiencing domestic abuse or senior neglect. Sometimes they tell her that they’ve forgotten their pills on the bus and in response Means will drive them to Walmart, come with them to the doctor and be their cheerleader.
“We have to be real with our people,” she said. And that means reminding them to take their medicine, offering them support and educating them.
“Be Of Good Heart” isn’t just going to enter communities, it’s going to be a part of them.