Two communities find healthy solutions that work

Two communities find healthy solutions that work
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Welcome to Healthy Communities News — where we highlight communities that are finding innovative solutions to solve local health challenges. Our first episode features communities battling two common and persistent problems: food deserts and heart disease. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, the East End Pop Up Market gives residents easy access to fresh food for the first time in four decades. In Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, church leaders are mixing faith with fitness to stem the tide of heart disease and diabetes in their congregations.


New market gives Bridgeport residents access to fresh food

As the economy struggles and poverty rises in Bridgeport, manufacturing jobs are not the only thing leaving town: Residents have had to go farther and farther to find fresh food. But a group of local businesspeople is looking to reverse that trend. They’re opening the new East End Pop-Up Market, which will offer not only fresh food, but also job training and wellness workshops. It’s a solution that can be a model for food deserts across the country.


Bridgeport market gives entrepreneurs a jump start

Small businesses can revitalize neighborhoods – so the Bridgeport OIC is lending a hand to local entrepreneurs. We talk to Jeff Nelson of Seeding Knowledge, a start-up that plants and maintains gardens and sells produce. He’s expanding his services to the East End Pop-Up Market, where he’ll offer not only fruits and vegetables, but cooking classes and gardening instruction.


Faith begets fitness in Mecklenburg County

Faith leaders, county health officials, the local health system and community groups have proven that it takes a village to address local health issues. The Village HeartBEAT program created a fitness challenge in local congregations. The goal? To help residents battling heart disease and diabetes. The program uses exercise, nutrition and community gardens to help raise the spirits and lower the weight of participants.

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Addressing opioid use disorder through treatment centers instead of prisons

Addressing opioid use disorder through treatment centers instead of prisons
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Local people with local solutions — that’s what we’re all about at Healthy Communities News. In this episode, our host, Hilary Russo, travels to Virginia and North Carolina to check out two communities taking creative approaches to address opioid use disorder. We’ll hear about these innovative solutions from the folks on the ground putting them into action and get a glimpse into recovery from Wanda Jenkins, who is using her experience with opioid use disorder to help others.


A helping hand from someone who’s been there: Gina’s story

In this episode’s podcast, we meet Gina Musa, who advocates passionately for community members in rural North Carolina struggling with opioid use disorder. A former sex worker, Gina draws on her own experience with addiction and recovery to connect people with much-needed resources and support. Today, she is a Linkage to Care Coordinator for the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, a job funded by an Aetna Foundation grant.

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The #1 killer of women: Shining a light on cardiovascular disease

The #1 killer of women: Shining a light on cardiovascular disease
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The number one killer of women is cardiovascular disease. This stark statistic is why the American Heart Association’s national “Go Red for Women” movement is so important. Healthy Communities News was on hand at their annual star-studded Red Dress Collection fashion show in New York City, where we got the opportunity to sit down with four heart disease and stroke survivors for a roundtable discussion. Hear their stories of recovery and hope — and why we need to talk about women’s heart health.


Taking a deep dive into heart health

You can be young, look and feel healthy and still be at risk for a heart attack or stroke. Surprised? Healthy Communities News spoke with Dr. Mosca, a volunteer medical expert with the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement, to get a better of understanding of women’s heart health. We also sat down with Jenny Petz and Nicole Murray, two of the inspiring heart disease and stroke survivors chosen for Go Red for Women’s 2020 class of Real Women to hear their powerful stories of survival and recovery.

Dr. Mosca, a volunteer medical expert with the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement.
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Community joins forces to live healthy in Miami’s Little Havana

Community joins forces to live healthy in Miami’s Little Havana
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Much like the neighborhood for which it is named, the Live Healthy Little Havana program is a mix of many different elements. It’s a community-led initiative, a partnership with the government, a collaboration with health organizations and an effort to improve resident/police relations — all rolled into one.

To really know what a community needs, you have to live there. Talk with your neighbors over the back fence. See the issues with your own eyes. That’s what makes the Live Healthy Little Havana program a success.

Neighborhood residents, working as community liaisons, are at the heart of the work to improve life for those in the community. And everyone’s got a seat at the table, from government representatives to health workers to lifelong residents. It’s a model that’s driving change — and one that other communities can replicate.

Live Healthy Little Havana participants are working on multiple fronts toward a single goal — to improve life for the residents of this storied community. We showed up at one of their events to hear about how it’s working — and watched as kids from the neighborhood vied to be the first to get the local police commander into the dunk tank.

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Building trust and rebuilding a community in Louisville

Building trust and rebuilding a community in Louisville
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Healthy Communities News spotlights local people with local solutions to health challenges in their communities. In Louisville, Kentucky, the shadow of segregation and the city’s past reluctance to invest in a historically black community have left many residents distrustful of government. But now, a group of longtime residents are driving efforts to help revitalize their neighborhood — and they’re doing it in partnership with the government. Together, they are creating programs like the West Louisville Outdoor Recreation Initiative — which, among other things, helps local kids learn about and experience nature. Because many local families don’t have easy access to parks or forests, the initiative brings nature to the children with a project called ECHO — Engaging Children in the Outdoors. We visited Louisville to learn more.

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Helping colleges quit tobacco

Helping colleges quit tobacco
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At Healthy Communities News, we spotlight the people and places that are tackling local health challenges in impactful ways. The University of San Francisco (USF) is one of over 200 colleges and universities adopting policies to eliminate tobacco from their campuses as part of the CVS Health Foundation Tobacco-Free Campus Initiative. It’s a part of the $50 million commitment to help deliver the first tobacco-free generation launched by CVS Health soon after it quit selling tobacco products five years ago. We visited USF to see what a tobacco-free campus looks like and sat down with students, staff and our partner at the American Cancer Society for their thoughts on going 100 percent smoke- and tobacco-free.


Students talk tobacco: Getting real with Temple University and Truth Initiative

With 99 percent of smokers beginning by the age of 26, college is a critical time to prevent the start of life-long addiction to nicotine and tobacco. Temple University in Philadelphia went smoke- and tobacco-free in July of 2019. We sat down with a group of their students for a candid conversation on how the program is going in its early days. We also chatted with Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative, a national public health organization focused on youth tobacco prevention known for its edgy, award-winning “Truth” campaign.

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Cutting hair and hypertension at Nashville barbershops

Cutting hair and hypertension at Nashville barbershops
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In Nashville, Tennessee, there’s a low-slung brick building nestled among fast food shops and a gas station on Clarksville Pike. It’s proudly painted red, white, and blue — a comfortable, well-worn spot that’s become a cultural hub for generations of African-American customers.

Barbershops are not just places to get a shave and a haircut. For African-American communities, they can also become havens for much-needed health care services. High rates of hypertension in this community are compounded by the fact that African-American men often aren’t receiving regular medical care.

To address this, a group of partners, including Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Nashville Health, and CVS Health, are placing pharmacists inside Nashville barbershops to test patrons for high blood pressure and recommend treatments.

Listen to this episode’s podcast for a deeper dive.

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Testing Atlanta’s Westside

Testing Atlanta’s Westside
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Atlanta’s Westside has a long history of civil rights activism. The neighborhood was home to leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Julian Bond. Systemic racism has marginalized communities throughout the United States. The consequences can be measured in the health outcomes of people who live in moderate to high need areas like Vine City, where the life expectancy is 13 years shorter than communities only 20 miles away. CVS Health is working to close that gap, alongside the staff at Good Samaritan, a local health center that is now providing free COVID-19 testing to those in the community who need it most.


The importance of testing, the power of community

In the podcast, we explore these topics even more deeply with Breanna Lathrop. We also caught up with Dr. Bill Warren, the visionary who founded Good Samaritan some 21-and-a-half years ago. John Ahmann is the president of the Westside Future Fund and an Atlanta native who brings an historical perspective to the discussion before closing the loop with Makeda Johnson, director and founder of the Sisters Action Team, who draws from her faith and the power of collective action over individualism in supporting her community.

Several people walking into a CVS Health community test center in Atlanta, Georgia.
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Creating safer pregnancies through preeclampsia prevention

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A new, first-of-its-kind initiative designed to prevent the devastating impacts of preeclampsia in pregnant members launched today as part of the Aetna Maternity Program. Building on the enterprise’s long-standing commitment to support expectant mothers on a path to better health, the initiative is focused on preventing this condition, a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death that accounts for 15 percent of all preterm births in the U.S.https://www.preeclampsia.org/faqs

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. is one of the only high-income countries where deaths related to pregnancy or childbirth are on the rise. This crisis also disproportionately affects Black women.https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr69/nvsr69_02-508.pdfhttps://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternal-mortality/ And, in recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges, as many expectant moms may be attending fewer in-person prenatal care visits that could help detect preeclampsia risks.

“Alarmingly, women today are 50 percent more likely to die in childbirth than their mothers were, and Black women are at an even higher risk. We must do more to address this public health crisis and keep moms and babies healthy,” says Daniel Knecht, M.D., CVS Health’s vice president of clinical products. “The goal of this initiative is to help empower our members to have productive discussions with their providers throughout their pregnancy journey.” 

Empowering safer pregnancies

Amidst the COVID-19 landscape, pregnant women may be attending fewer in-person prenatal care visits and in turn be at higher risk for developing complications that go undetected.

Read the infographic

By leveraging Aetna claims data, the program identifies high-risk pregnant members for individualized outreach and subsequently sends them an engaging, personalized prenatal care kit. Each kit contains educational materials about preeclampsia, along with an 81 mg bottle of low-dose aspirin, an intervention that can substantially reduce the risk for developing the condition. Members also receive an appointment reminder card encouraging them to have informed conversations with their obstetrician about the potential benefits of low-dose aspirin.Note: Pregnant women should always talk to their doctor before starting an aspirin regimen.

Although preeclampsia has no cure, taking one low-dose aspirin a day has been proven to be a low-cost, safe medication that can significantly cut the risk of the condition and some of its complications.https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1704559?query=recirc_curatedRelated_article Despite compelling evidence, providers and patients are largely unaware of aspirin’s effectiveness, highlighting the important need for continued education.

“CVS Health is well-positioned to improve both access to and outcomes of maternal and neonatal health care, including for causes of severe maternal morbidity that is disproportionately experienced among minority women,” noted Joanne Armstrong, M.D., CVS Health enterprise head of women’s health and an OB/GYN. “We have delivery channels that can bring critical information and resources, such as low-dose aspirin, right to members’ doorsteps. This outreach is coupled with a care management program featuring highly trained and dedicated nurses to support the personalized needs of pregnant members.”

The initiative is an exciting and simple way that CVS Health and Aetna are empowering safer pregnancies and connecting expectant mothers with preventative care that meets their unique needs. As part of the Aetna Maternity Program’s efforts, all pregnant members will receive a letter and flyer from the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine informing them about preeclampsia and its signs and symptoms.

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The mission to “Unite Us”

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As a person experiencing homelessness, Michael Fields’ biggest challenge in addiction recovery was not simply achieving sobriety but finding the social support to maintain it. 

“I ended up back on the street every time, back in drug addiction,” says the 45-year-old West Virginia native who completed several treatment programs. “When you’re in recovery, you have to change everything about your life, or you change nothing.”

Michael’s story illustrates how social determinants of health can directly influence a person’s wellbeing outside a doctor’s office – with factors like affordable housing, food insecurity and education impacting up to 80% of health incomes.

William Turley does his laundry inside the Peer Center (a drop-in center for individuals experiencing homelessness) in Charleston, West Virginia.
William Turley does his laundry inside the Peer Center (a drop-in center for individuals experiencing homelessness) on Thursday, June 4, 2020, in Charleston, West Virginia. (Credit: Chris Cone/CVS Health)

To build healthier communities, especially during these unprecedented times where COVID-19 has contributed to massive layoffs and fewer resources for assistance, CVS Health and Unite Us launched a digital social care network in Central West Virginia. It provides essential services around substance abuse and mental and behavioral health. It also addresses other crucial needs such as employment, education, housing and food security.

“As an extension of our traditional plan offerings, we’re helping vulnerable community members access the non-clinical resources they need to improve their everyday health,” says R.J. Briscione, senior director of Social Determinants of Health Strategy & Execution at Aetna, a CVS Health Company.

Aetna, according to R.J. will also make the Unite Us network available to its Medicaid and dual-eligible Medicaid/Medicare customers in the region.

“This network opens up a whole new world to people who have access to limited resources,” says Jim Smallridge, RN, manager, Community Development for Aetna Better Health of West Virginia. “It’s an extension of possibilities for so many people in need.”

Amanda sits in the parking lot outside the United Way Drop-in Peer Center in Charleston, West Virginia.
Amanda sits in the parking lot outside the United Way Drop-in Peer Center in Charleston, West Virginia. She looks forward to the services she will be provided.

Looking toward the future, CVS Health and Unite Us are looking to provide similar networks in Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky and North Carolina.

Today, because he’s found the support he so badly needed through this program, Michael Fields now has greater hope for long-term sobriety. The United Way, a local Unite Us member, helped him apply for housing and food assistance. He’s also applying for a grant that would allow him to attend a local technical college.

“I’m definitely not taking anything for granted. I’m working every day to keep everything I’ve got,” he says. “It isn’t much, but it’s a whole lot more than I’ve had for a long time.”

Non-profit soup kitchen Manna Meal, a partner of Unite Us, prepares to serve meals June 4, 2020, in Charleston, West Virginia.
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