Coastal Health District Gears Up for Million Hearts Initiative

February 9, 2015

Every day, men and women have their blood pressure taken and find out they are at risk for hypertension. What then? What if they don’t have a regular physician for follow-up appointments or their blood pressure reading isn’t properly documented?

Unchecked high blood pressure increases risks for getting heart disease and patients without access to care are forced to talk with their doctor about treatment rather than prevention. The Coastal Health District hopes to change that through participation in the Million Hearts initiative.

The Coastal Health District is one of five public health districts in Georgia that will receive funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Million Hearts campaign created to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.

“It’s a lofty goal, but one I truly believe is achievable,” said Coastal Health District Director of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Cristina Gibson. “With 1 in 4 people dying from heart disease every year, we can’t afford to sit back and do nothing. It’s time for action.”

That means hitting the ground running in the district’s eight coastal counties with a campaign that has a two-pronged approach: implementing processes to reduce undiagnosed cases of high blood pressure and making sure those diagnosed with high blood pressure receive proper follow-up education and care.

That, too, is an ambitious goal and one that Gibson plans to accomplish by partnering with county health departments and Curtis V. Cooper Primary Health Care, a federally and county funded community health care center in Savannah, Georgia.

“We want to identify people with elevated blood pressure to make sure they are appropriately diagnosed and confirm they are receiving the care they need,” said Gibson.

As a partner in this endeavor, Curtis V. Cooper Primary Health Care will pull data on all current patients and document how many of them have had two or more elevated blood pressure readings within a 12-month period. These patients will then be diagnosed with hypertension – if they haven’t already – and a treatment plan will be put in place for each. That plan may include lifestyle counseling, medication or both.

The Coastal Health District health departments will also play a vital role by holding regular tobacco-cessation classes hosted by the American Cancer Society’s Freshstart® program. Those participating in the classes will have their blood pressure taken and anyone with an elevated pressure will be referred to Curtis V. Cooper Primary Health Care if they do not have access to a primary care physician.

“One of the main goals of the health district’s tobacco cessation program will be to find those with hypertension and put them in the pipeline toward getting their blood pressure lowered,” said Gibson. “Ultimately, we’re trying to prevent heart disease and stroke.”

One of the underlying factors throughout the district’s initiative is to communicate with health care facilities along Georgia’s coast to ensure they are following the Hypertension Guideline Management algorithm which lays out very specific instructions on following and treating hypertensive patients.

“Working with the Coastal Health District on the Million Hearts initiative is a wonderful opportunity to support our ongoing efforts to identify and treat those with hypertension,” said Albert Grandy, chief executive officer of Curtis V. Cooper Primary Health Care.

Although the Million Hearts grant for the Coastal Health District will only last through June, Gibson said she hopes this is the beginning of a widespread effort to bring much needed attention to the importance of tracking and treating high blood pressure.

“We know that high blood pressure can and does lead to heart disease and stroke, but knowing and doing something about it are two different things,” she said. “By taking part in the Million Hearts initiative, we are doing something good and hope to use it as a starting point to identify and care for those with undiagnosed and uncontrolled hypertension.”

Visit DPH online to learn more about heart disease and its participation in the Million Hearts initiative.  For more information about health services available in the Coastal Health District, please visit  


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