Healthy Hearts on the Move in Franklin & Grand Isle
By Margaret Maley
According to the American Heart Association (www.heart.org), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Unfortunately, most of us know this statistic all too well. The good news is that heart disease can be prevented, and we’re not just talking about dragging yourself to the treadmill to solve all your heart related problems. In Franklin and Grand Isle Counties, we’ve got unique and fun solutions. That’s why in our region, our local hospital has teamed up with various organizations to put on an event that gets everyone moving towards their health goals: Healthy Hearts on the Move.
Where it all started:
Healthy Hearts on the Move originally started a few years ago when our local hospital, Northwestern Medical Center, launched their new cardiology practice. This sparked an internal conversation about the importance of not only heart health, but the overall health of the community. Thus, the dream was born of an event in which trusted NMC employees had the opportunity to spread the word about what it means to have a healthy heart, and how you can lower potential risk factors.
It didn’t take long for the event to expand. With such high attendance came questions of what went well and how to improve, which immediately begged the question: who’s missing? Franklin and Grand Isle counties are renowned for their partnerships, so it didn’t take long for one to form. The Parent Child Center of Northwestern Counseling and Support Services and the hospital sat down three years ago to discuss what the PCC could bring in terms of early childhood and family wellness, and the rest is history.
If you were to attend the free event, which is held in our K-8 St. Albans City elementary school on a Saturday in February, you would be welcomed by hospital staff who provide a detailed map to help you navigate your way through the halls of the school. You may find it busy depending on the time you go; nearly five hundred people come in and out of the event between the hours of 9 and 12am! You might stop to learn about breast cancer, or gather resources on smoking cessation. You might enter a raffle, learn about your local gym, or find out more about your local urgent care options. Sit down in the cafeteria to try some multi-grain banana bread, or homemade hummus with veggies. Stop by the “little” gym for dancing and hula hopping with RISE Vermont, or get a massage in the library. Get a health screening on site, learn about our local community health centers, or find your family a dental home. After you’ve visited the numerous hospital based booths, stop by our local community action organization to learn about affordable housing options. There’s so much more to see, but the kids can’t wait any longer, so you follow their lead into the “big” gym, where the Parent Child Center is staffing numerous play based activities that are engaging for both kids and caregivers. Before you leave, you’ll pick up flyers and brochures that outline the PCC’s early childhood home visiting programs, free playgroups, events and parenting groups. You might take home information on Building Bright Futures and how it supports the earliest years, in addition to a Help Me Grow VT rack card or milestone tracker to view at home if you have questions or concerns. You probably overheard Governor Phil Scott proclaim on the microphone in the big gym February 10th as Active Play Day! You might be exhausted from the bouncing, block building, tunnel meandering and volleyball, but it’ll be worth it come nap time. Don’t feel overwhelmed, you have all the resources you need in your NMC take home bag!
What are the social Determinants of Health and how do they connect?
Franklin and Grand Isle counties are fluent in the language of collaboration. Working from a collective impact lens consistently positions us to be successful in sharing resources and facilitating wide spread impact. Though the phrase we use is “heart health”, we’re also talking about the social determinants of health, which include economic stability, education, social and community context, health and health care, and neighborhood and built environments (www.CDC.gov). While most of us know general checkups and screenings are a critical preventative measure, there are other ways our heart health is impacted that may be less obvious. What makes events like healthy hearts so critically important is that it provides families with universal access to prevention and intervention strategies that mitigate various health risks. Healthy Hearts intentionally is designed to be a one stop shop for individuals to address and explore varying concerns one might have about themselves or their families. Access to health care, community-based resources, safe housing, nutrition education, and social support are among the few social determinants that we look to address. When putting on such a large event, it’s imperative to have experts and specialists who are able to address those components and how they link back to heart health. The work to turn the curve on heart health is done by providing on site access to free health screenings, free play and exercise for children and families, physical fitness demos, nutrition, housing, and the space to form community connections between neighbors. The hope is that with access to supportive programming, families can build natural supports that are critical to healthy communities.
How success is measured:
Though Healthy Hearts on the Move reaches more than 500 people each year, the success of the event cannot be measured solely by the event attendees alone. The healthy hearts planning committee debriefs each year to discuss number of screenings done, referrals made, resources handed out, and touch on the breadth of the conversation. This is all to say that Healthy Hearts on the Move is more than a one-time event; it’s a continual evolution of creating communities that have access to resources that will meet family needs and improve population health. A major component of this includes listening to stories from attendees, specialists, and changing up strategies for engagement each year. The hope is for Healthy Hearts on the Move to expand each year with greater reach, impact and opportunity.
If you couldn’t make it this year, you might be wondering about some ways to improve heart health:
The American Heart Association suggests mixing different vegetables and greens into your daily diet, getting 30 minutes of daily exercise, and finding ways to manage your stress as daily ways to improve your heart health. Heart health doesn’t only impact you in adulthood, it’s important for kids to be aware of as well. The earlier children start moving, building self-regulation skills, and developing healthy eating habits, the better. Families can do it together, and accessing local community resources can help.
Franklin Grand Isle Regional Coordinator
Building Bright Futures