A Million Hearts® in their hands – A conversation with Buffalo’s pastors

By Annette Pinder

Photo by Doug Levere

Photo by Doug Levere

I recently had the honor of meeting Bishop Michael Badger, Reverend Frank Bostic, and Pastors Mark Blue, Dennis Lee, George Nicholas, and Kinzer Mark Pointer. The purpose of our discussion was to learn about why and how 58 area churches that comprise Greater Buffalo United Ministries (GRUM) are making health and wellness a priority.

GRUM, UB School of Nursing and the Millennium Collaborative Care are partners embracing the Million Hearts® national initiative, with an ambitious goal to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services co-lead the initiative on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Heart disease and stroke are the first and fifth leading causes of death in the United States. Every 43 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack, many of them fatal. On average, one American dies from stroke every 4 minutes. Million Hearts® aims to prevent heart attacks and strokes by improving access to effective care and improving quality of care for the ABCS of heart health – which stands for Aspirin when appropriate; Blood pressure control; Cholesterol management; and Smoking cessation.

There is a lot more happening in Buffalo churches than we realize. “It’s not just about bible study. It’s also about food pantries, community based programs, seniors, rescuing people from trafficking, job fairs, and health and wellness ministries,” explains Pastor Pointer.” The pastors agreed that health is a priority, saying, “We got tired of the funerals for people too young to die—people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, when the national average is 79 years for women and 75 years for men. These numbers rival third world countries, and it is the same with our Latino brothers and sisters.”

Health care ministries in these churches also seek help from primary care physicians they trust. People are learning about the importance of having a primary care physician instead of relying upon emergency rooms. They are learning about the importance of exercise, nutrition, colorectal care, managing stress, and why blood pressure matters. They are even receiving dental care. “If someone at a church health screening has a blood pressure that is dangerously high they receive immediate and follow-up care. They are linked with a primary care physician where they can be seen and consistently followed,” explains Pastor Pointer.

GRUM is inspired by the progress they are seeing, and how it is trickling down to family members, affecting thousands of people weekly. They are grateful to UB School of Nursing and Rita Hubbard-Robinson of Millennium Collaborative, who is conducting surveys in churches with a goal of linking those who are uninsured with health insurance and primary care physicians.

“We are making progress. But we need to keep going. We need to eliminate health disparities, we need doctors and hospitals to treat people equally and inspire them to value their health and make better choices,” said Pastor Nicholas.

Learn more about Million Hearts and pledge to support the campaign at millionhearts.hhs.gov or call 716-898-1968.