‘Million Hearts’ initiative promotes heart health

four women standing at table promoting an initiative related to improving heart health.

From left: Molli Oldenburg, Mary Rhinehart, Amy Lyons and Susan Grinslade provide information on the Million Hearts initiative at UB on the Green in July. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

By Chanrles Anzalone, originally published in UBNow

Published August 17, 2023



headshot of sebastian phillips.
“It’s clear to the participants themselves that they have an issue, and sometimes all it takes is a stranger talking with them to inspire change, no matter how significant."
Sebastian Phillips, Senior
Traditional Nursing Program

For Susan Grinslade, community engagement coordinator in the School of Nursing, the Million Hearts initiative is more than a snappy, well-meaning slogan.

Since 2016, when she was a member of the African American Health Equity Task Force, Grinslade has been an activist and advocate for helping people in underserved communities become more aware of heart problems.

Collaborating with Millennium Collaborative Care, the Greater Buffalo United Ministries and other School of Nursing faculty, Grinslade recruited students for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Million Hearts initiative, bringing heart-health screening to an average of 50 to 100 residents at each screening event on Buffalo’s East Side who otherwise might have never had the preventive measures.

They scheduled women for mammograms and men for prostate exams at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. From spring 2016 through March 2020, the local Million Hearts initiative conducted an average of four to five screening events per month at churches, community events and at the Buffalo Public Schools in collaboration with the Say Yes program.

Grinslade hasn’t looked back since.

As associate director of UB’s Community Health Equity Research Institute, Grinslade revived the local version of Million Hearts, which was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during the spring 2023 semester. Grinslade, other nursing faculty and their students continued the health screenings, mostly at churches and community health events, enlisting cooperation from others, among them Buffalo United Ministries, the UB Community Health Equity Research Institute and the Buffalo Center for Health Equity.

“Our purpose in initiating this community activity was to screen community residents for cardiovascular health risks,” Grinslade explains. “By using interdisciplinary health students, we were able to provide health education on blood pressure, weight, exercise, nutrition and a review of medications they were currently taking.”

Here are the facts that Grinslade says drive her to reach out to the community and provide health education and guidance:

  • Over 14.3% of the population in Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls (158,000 out of 1.1 million people) live below the poverty line.
  • In Erie County, there’s a significant disparity between the health outcomes of white residents and those of color. This became even more striking as COVID-19 disproportionately affected Black and brown communities in Erie County, as well as across the country.
  • Even before the pandemic, the life expectancy of Black Buffalo residents was 5.4 years shorter than that of white residents.

“Feedback from the participants was very positive,” says Grinslade, “and the students expressed how important it was to be able to interact with members of the community who didn’t look like them, and it provided an opportunity to interact and learn about the barriers to health care many of the participants faced.”

Million Hearts continues

Grinslade and her collaborators are continuing their work this coming fall semester. Health screenings will feature a brief health history, including health insurance, primary care provider, past or current smoking, height, weight and BMI calculation, current blood pressure medication and completion of the Perceived Stress Scale. These conferences will be followed by individualized health education to mitigate current health issues, Grinslade adds.

Individuals without health insurance or a primary care provider are referred for insurance enrollment and to primary care practice sites on the East Side.

“In the fall, students from the school of pharmacy will join our initiative,” says Grinslade. “Community participants will be advised to bring a list of their medications. Pharmacy students will provide information and answer any questions they have regarding specific medications. 

Grinslade also plans to work with the Buffalo Center for Health Equity to initiate LIVE the Beat, a new CDC campaign that aims to individualize heart-healthy activity that aligns with individuals’ lifestyle.

A stranger can inspire change

Students already active in Million Hearts have become ambassadors.

“Million Hearts is a fantastic way to reach out in a community I would not have otherwise interacted with,” says Sebastian Phillips, a senior in the traditional nursing program.

“I meet a variety of people with a plethora of stories that allow me to supplement my own decisions and trajectory. The complications of high blood pressure, poor diet and bad habits heavily impact the communities we visit,” Phillips says.

“It’s clear to the participants themselves that they have an issue, and sometimes all it takes is a stranger talking with them to inspire change, no matter how significant. A free, inconsequential discussion about one’s health should be available to anyone.”

Tranx Caubang, a fourth-year senior in the School of Nursing who is planning to enter critical care after graduation, says Million Hearts was “deeply meaningful” because he came from a similar underserved community.

“Each interaction reaffirms my commitment to supporting others, and the satisfaction of helping individuals take proactive steps toward their health is immeasurable,” says Caubang.

“In essence, my engagement with the initiative has ignited a passion for making a positive impact while also fostering a deeper understanding of the significance of community-driven health care efforts.”

Caubang cites a “motivating encounter” with a dedicated organizer a few years older than himself, who established a nonprofit focused on family wellness.

“Her passion and expertise for making a difference in these people’s lives left a lasting impression on me, reinforcing the importance of patient care and community engagement,” he says.

global goals.

3. Good Health and Well-Being

10. Reduced Inequalities

17. Partnerships for the Goals