#FaithWorks: 'engAGE with Heart' initiative seeks to combat heart disease in Baltimore

By Marnita Coleman, Special to The Afro

November 18, 2023

On Oct. 29, Baltimore leaders and the Global Coalition on Aging along, with Rev. Dr. Terris Andre King Sr., host pastor of Liberty Grace Church of God in Ashburton, officially launched “engAGE With Heart.” The health initiative is designed to combat heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in Baltimore City. 

The focal point of the Novartis-sponsored program is reducing health disparities through community involvement in “health education, healthy eating and preventive cardiovascular screenings.”

The event began with a robust worship service, followed by remarks from Mayor Brandon M. Scott; Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.); Bishop Clifford M. Johnson Jr., pastor of Mount Pleasant Church and Ministries in Frankford; Michael Hodin, CEO of Global Coalition on Aging; Reshema Kemps-Polanco, executive vice president, chief commercial officer of Novartis and Gov. Wes Moore, who shared words via video message. The event also convened community health ambassadors, faith-based leaders and other governmental officials.

Mayor Scott stated, “the overarching theme of my administration is working to overcome the decades of disinvestment that so many of our communities have experienced.” Scott continued that combating health issues with lack of access to health care and the presence of food deserts are essential to that overarching work. 

“We know that it is no secret that cardiovascular disease is a significant challenge in our city. And in fact, over a third of our residents have hypertension. We can end this together and that is why I am filled with hope as we launch this program in Baltimore with a deep commitment to address cardiovascular health from all angles.”

According to reports, “the impact of cardiovascular diseases, like heart attack, stroke, peripheral arterial disease, and high blood pressure tends to increase with age. In Baltimore, it is the number one cause of mortality, responsible for more than 25 percent of all deaths. It’s even worse for the city’s Black residents. The average life expectancy of residents in the predominantly White (79.5 percent) neighborhood of Greater Roland Park is 83 – 20 years longer than the average life expectancy of residents in Black (94.3 percent), Druid Heights.”

Reshema Kemps-Polanco, executive vice president, chief commercial officer of Novartis said the church is crucial to making change.

“If you want to solve a problem, get the church involved,” she said. “Where you live should not determine if you live.”

The partnership of churches include four local ministries throughout Baltimore: Liberty Grace Church of God in Ashburton, Mount Pleasant Development Corporation in Cedonia, The Lord’s Church in Park Heights, and Sweet Hope Free Will Baptist Church in Dolfield. The initiative also includes two senior centers run by the Baltimore City Health Department: Sandtown Winchester Senior Center in Sandtown-Winchester and Zeta Center for Healthy and Active Aging in Central Park Heights.

King gave an indepth look into the process. 

“Once a month, the partner churches and community centers host a family and friends day event. They experience a top flight, heart healthy, delicious meal prepared by culinary ministries. They are taught the simplistic way to prepare the meal,” said King. “They also have screenings and exams from nurses within the Johns Hopkins system that come into our houses of worship to screen for heart health and diabetes. We bring a speaker in at each event that talks about various issues. In my community, for example, they have highlighted four issues as their priorities: mental health, cancer, heart health– certainly– and diabetes.” 

King spoke on the importance of other local programming that addresses healthy food. 

“The Black Food Security Network brings a farmer’s market to the congregants and community. This is a holistic process where the community is informed, can ask questions, talk with culinary chefs and participate in screenings and exams. It’s inclusive of community health ambassadors, people they have relationships with and respect their influences that are there to assist them,” said King. “These ambassadors encourage them to adjust their lifestyles and eating habits to improve their screened numbers. We see ourselves as an intricate part of the healthcare ecosystem.” 

If the participants’ numbers are elevated, the nurses send that information to the primary care doctor so that attention is given to the participant. If there’s no insurance or doctor in place, they receive a referral to a clinic that will address their needs.

The Liberty Grace Church of God EngAGE With Heart launch, occupied four levels of the church with heart health education to reinvigorate honored guests and participants’ way of thinking about prevention and self-management. 

On level one, heart healthy food education and food stations were prepared by culinary chefs that demonstrated the ease in creating delicious heart-healthy meals.

On level two, cardiovascular and diabetes screenings were conducted by Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and Brancati Center. Attendees underwent screenings for risk factors such as blood pressure, blood sugars, blood lipids, and healthy weight.

On level three, community health ambassadors led small group discussions on the devastating effect of heart disease, whilst Temple X Schools engaged the youth in heart health activities through art.

On level four, the sanctuary balcony was converted into a vaccine clinic by Walgreens, offering COVID, flu, shingles and RSV vaccines.

“This is a program that is really sensitive to our community’s needs, that is driven by institutions of trust, patient-participant centric, and is designed in a way the community wanted it,” said King, in closing. “This is truly a community based initiative!”

Source: The Afro