By Shellie Byrum


People from all walks of life are coming together in Rochester, N.Y., to help their neighbors improve their blood pressure and overall health.

Blood PressureThrough an initial partnership between the Finger Lakes Health System Agency, the Rochester Business Alliance (Rochester’s local chamber of commerce), and the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, the University of Rochester Medical Center’s (URMC) Center for Community Health developed the 2015 AHA NOVA Award-winning Blood Pressure Advocate Program (BPAP). The three-year-old program incorporates community health advocates (CHAs) into health care settings to address high blood pressure.

The AHA NOVA Award honors hospital-led partnerships that improve community health.

One-third of the adults in Monroe County have high blood pressure, and those living in Rochester are at increased risk for developing it, compared to their suburban counterparts. Medical complications due to high blood pressure also are exacerbated by the city’s high poverty rates, which can affect a patient’s ability to get medical help, afford blood pressure medications and practice healthy behaviors.

The key to BPAP’s success is community involvement – and particularly the business community’s engagement and investment in health care.

“This started with our local businesses saying they wanted to make a difference and then working with other stakeholders,” says Rochester Deputy Mayor Leonard Redon. “It came down to the cost of health insurance, which encourages people to get involved. If you're not dealing with dollars and cents, it's easy for people to laugh it off.”

Residents with no prior clinical experience were recruited from the local community and trained in community health, including blood pressure, health education and the social determinants of health, among other issue areas. Four CHAs are stationed in provider settings throughout Rochester, where, at no cost to the practice or patient, they assist with health education and counseling for patients to help reduce blood pressure.

Some patients may be struggling with weight loss or stress reduction, while others are looking for ways to consistently take their medication. In addition to dealing with health behaviors, the health advocates also address social issues, such as finding places for patients to get clothing or sharing information about a job fair.

“With health care reform, there's an emphasis and encouragement to have the clinic and community connect in order to improve patient health,” says Shaquana Divers, BPAP program director. “The advocates are a resource for the site to be that community-health linkage.”

BPAP has served more than 1,000 patients. CHAs regularly receive letters from patients thanking them for helping them overcome barriers to adopting healthier lifestyles.

Michael Mendoza, M.D., medical director of Highland Family Medicine, has collaborated with URMC’s Center for Community Health for several years. His practice houses a CHA in its office.

Mendoza has seen the benefit of patients engaging with the advocate as a lay health educator, and in a much different way than they would a doctor or a nurse. And the program isn’t only benefiting patients. He says the CHA is a welcome addition to the practice, particularly given the primary care workforce shortage.

“It's very important for us as providers to explore ways to expand our health care workforce and to challenge ourselves to believe that health care doesn't always have to happen in the 60 minutes they spend within the four walls of the practice every year,” says Mendoza. “Patients need to see that they can experience quality health care even if it's not from a doctor or a nurse.”

Click here to watch a video about BPAP.