Members of the Northeast Health Equity Consortium (NHEC) gathered in New York City in April to celebrate their successful inaugural year and develop a framework for the coming year with a focus on addressing health inequities and disparities in eight states –Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Co-chairs Keith Churchwell, MD, FACC, FAHA, FACP, Founders Affiliate Board President and Vice President and Executive Director of Heart and Vascular Services, Yale New Haven Hospital, and Cheryl Pegus, MD, MPH, Immediate Past President of the American Heart Association’s Founders Affiliate Board and Clinical Professor of Medicine and Population Health, Director, Division of General Internal Medicine and Clinical Innovation, NYU School of Medicine welcomed the participants and reminded everyone that while NHEC was conceived of as a think tank, it has evolved into a “do tank,” because action is essential to create equitable health outcomes  and eliminate health disparities.

A robust discussion regarding how social determinants of health can significantly impact cardiovascular health followed presentations by Garth Graham, MD, MPH, FACP, FACC, Founders Board member and President of the Aetna Foundation, Benjamin Perkins, Vice President, Multicultural Initiatives/Health Equity, Founders Affiliate. Social factors, such as education, income and race, could erase gains made in reducing deaths from cardiovascular disease.  Failing to address social factors could undermine the American Heart Association’s 2020 goal to reduce heart disease and stroke deaths and improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent.

Also featured was a report from the Community Partnership workgroup, chaired by Raheem Baraka, discussing how Baraka Wellness piloted the American Heart Association’s Check.Change.Control® program in the metro Boston area. Check.Change.Control® is an evidence-based hypertension management program that utilizes blood pressure self-monitoring to empower participants to take ownership of their cardiovascular health.   The program incorporates the concepts of remote monitoring, online tracking and recruiting local volunteer health mentors to encourage participants.  Baraka Wellness develops health and wellness solutions at the community level by engaging and educating people where they are. Check.Change.Control® was successfully integrated into several existing Baraka Wellness programs including Community Cooking Academy, Food Cares Boston, WeFIT, and Healthy Moms Healthy Kids.  Next steps for the workgroup include developing a logic model and work plan for each member’s institution, identifying additional champions and stakeholders within institutions, deepening community relationships/partnerships and identifying resources.

The Data workgroup demonstrated its health disparities dashboard that tracks inequities in the markets the Affiliate serves, and includes a link to the CDC’s 500 Cities Project – a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – that identifies, analyzes and reports on 27 chronic disease measures focusing on conditions, behaviors, and risk factors that affect the public’s health. Both the dashboard and link to the 500 Cities Project can be found on the Consortium’s website at www.nhec.heart.org. The Advocacy workgroup identified several issues that they will be working on in the coming year, including tobacco, access to healthy food an increased access to spaces for physical activity (think Complete Streets, Rails to Trails, etc.)

The NHEC, which focuses on primordial and primary prevention; systems of, and delivery of care; social determinants of health; patient-centered outcomes research, community engagement, and community-based participatory research, was established by the American Heart Association with the generous support of the Aetna Foundation.