By Diego Ortiz Quintero
In the parking lot of VIP Community Services in the Bronx, with the thermometer flirting with triple-digit heat, winds were blowing strongly but not mightily enough to suppress the August sun or the will of those who shared their health journeys in celebration of finishing the first year of a blood pressure self-monitoring program funded in part by the American Heart Association.
In the first year, VIP enrolled 80 people into the self-monitoring program, of these over 60% have seen an improvement in their blood pressure. At a modest ceremony with cold water and a healthy lunch served on a hot day, participants were asked to share their impressions from a successful year-one.
Shawnee Sherrod was the first to stand up to give her testimonial. She told those gathered that during the program she learned she was borderline hypertensive (or numbers in the “Elevated” category). But she credits the program for helping her health steadily improve over the last year.
“I’ve lost 10 pounds, and I think it’s important that I have the blood pressure monitor because things have been improving,” Shawnee said. “Now that I know I’m borderline, I want to make sure that I do whatever I can to improve my overall health. I want to be a better version of myself.”
According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure is the silent killer because uncontrolled high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. According to the New York City Department of Health, heart disease and stroke together kill more New Yorkers than any other disease, accounting for 24% of all deaths in New York City.
In low-income neighborhoods, like the one where VIP Community Services is located, there is a high blood pressure prevalence 1.4 times higher than in high-income neighborhoods (32% vs. 24%).
That’s why in late 2021, VIP Community Services, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), that provides primary and specialty care services, health education and mental health services, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, established the self-monitoring blood pressure program.
As part of the program, patients with uncontrolled hypertension were prescribed blood pressure monitors along with American Heart Association self-measurement blood pressure resources and training to monitor their pressure at home.
Prior to this program, VIP had participated in AHA’s Target: BP program, designed to improve blood pressure control among patients with diagnosed hypertension.
Next up to the microphone was Charlotte White, who later posed for a photo after braving the heat. Dressed in a flower print shirt and carrying a butterfly purse, she told the crowd that she is optimistic about beginning year-two of the self-monitoring program.
For Charlotte, the program helped her keep track of her measurements and kept her accountable.
“The little book helps me keep track of my numbers and helps me keep track of what I eat. That’s important,” Charlotte said. “ I learned a lot about healthy habits and how to stay on the right path.”
Not even Bernard Carbbe, toting his new self-monitoring kit and sporting a camouflage Chicago Bulls cap, could hide from the August heat.
Bernard is a newcomer to the program. He joined because he recently learned he is diabetic.
“After receiving that news, I want to keep track of my blood pressure as well as my blood sugar so I can monitor all my numbers,” he said. “I’m still young and don’t want to slow down because of my health.”
In a county hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, many Bronx residents have also lost someone close to them due to heart disease and stroke. In the county ranked last out of 62 counties for health outcomes in New York State, there is large exposure to many of the environmental, social, racial and legal hurdles associated with having increased risk for early death from cardiovascular diseases.
Hubert Jackson says his family has a history of diabetes and high blood pressure. Two family members died of heart attacks just last year.
“Now I’m a father and I want to be around for my three kids,” Hubert said. “ I want to set a good example for them.”
For Hubert, the blood pressure self-monitoring program encouraged him to start eating better and exercise more.
After the final speaker departed from the stage, Barbara Salcedo, Director of Quality Improvement and Informatics at VIP, who organized the ceremony, handed the participants a certificate of recognition for completing the first year of the program.
“We thank the American Heart Association and Anthem Foundation for providing this resource to our patients and community,” Barbara said. “We look forward to bringing more health education to you and to work together to make this community healthier.”