Health Care

Free program through Volunteers in Medicine Hilton Head Island helps women at risk for cardiovascular disease

About five spots remain in a free women's heart health education and treatment program for qualifying women in the Hilton Head Island area.

With a grant from Pfizer, Volunteers in Medicine Hilton Head Island, a free health care clinic on Hilton Head, has developed the Women's Heart Health Initiative. The program provides free health education and treatment for low income women who have been diagnosed with a cardiovascular heart disorder or are at risk for developing one.

Risk factors include being older than 35, overweight, and having a family history of heart health issues, high cholesterol or blood pressure.

"If you look at the health care outcomes in our patient population, which is those under 200 percent federal poverty level, women have the poorest health of any group," said Lisa Drakeman, the chairwoman of the board of directors who wrote the grant application. "We're trying to combine education with screening, treatment and preventive measures to help improve the health of these women."

Starting in February, the clinic recruited about 475 of the 500 women sought for the program.

"In many cases, they're single mothers, and oftentimes they put their own health as the least priority," said Linda Bloom, the clinic's director of development and communications. "We're trying to give them the most amount of attention we can."

As part of the grant, participants receive a heart health screening to find out their current condition, a blood test, general medical exam and dental exam.

"Heart health can affect the entire body, especially if they have high blood pressure or cholesterol," Bloom said. "There's a good chance they're not taking care of their dental hygiene issues."

Qualifying women must be uninsured or underinsured.

"Even those who don't qualify for the program are welcome to come and listen to the education information presented at the program," Bloom said. "It's important information about heart health that everyone should know."

Bloom said they can customize the classes for the audience.

"The staff and volunteers know the patients quite well," she said. "They know where they shop, their cooking style, their family living styles. They tailor the classes to make it so it's doesn't cost more to live a healthy lifestyle."

Seminar topics so far have been on healthy eating, obesity and its effect on the heart, and dental hygiene. Drakeman said they are looking for a local chef to hold a cooking class to show how to prepare healthy food at a low-cost.

"The goal is to make it manageable for them to improve their health," she said.

The program outgrew the meeting space at the Volunteers in Medicine clinic; they now meet at All Saints Episcopal Church on Hilton Head.

"In many cases, women have brought their children or husbands because they know the information we're imparting is so important," Bloom said.

The program runs for one year, but Bloom said they will request to continue the program another year.

"So far, we believe it's been quite successful," she said. "It's not been long enough to see if (it) is working, but there's been great participation."

Drakeman agreed.

"They're very interested in what they're learning," she said. "There's a real search for knowledge among our patients."


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Press release: Volunteers in Medicine Announces Women's Heart Health Initiative