Village HeartBEAT Plants Seeds of Prevention in Mecklenberg

By Sharon Ricks, Regional Health Administrator, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Region IV

Sharon Ricks presenting award to Cheryl Emanuel in February 2016
Sharon Ricks presenting award to Cheryl Emanuel in February 2016

This February, I traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, to witness first-hand Mecklenburg County Health Department’s (MCHD) efforts to engage the faith community and other partners in its Village HeartBEAT (VHB) program.

Cheryl Emanuel, MCHD’s Senior Health Manager for Community Engagement, kept me busy from the moment I arrived. I spoke at a pastor’s roundtable, visited a health clinic, joined in a chair aerobics class, and spoke at a City Council meeting, all in one day. I presented them with a Community Outreach Champion certificate for their outstanding support of the Million Hearts® Initiative. Since then, they have inspired 65 congregations to join 100 Congregations for Million Hearts®. But that’s not all. They’re a great model of what Public Health 3.0 looks like in action.

On September 15, MCHD was selected as one of the HealthyCommunity50 that will compete for the grand prize in the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge. They will receive technical assistance and guidance, join a learning network, and get $10,000 to expand VHB.

This recognition brought Cheryl to tears. Local health departments struggle. Whether it’s leadership, partnerships, data, funding or infrastructure, they don’t always have what they need. But they do amazing things with what they have. And when people recognize their efforts, whether it’s with a paper certificate, a blog, or an award like this, it matters a lot. Here’s how Cheryl described the importance of receiving this award in a group email:

“My eyes are filled with tears and my heart filled with gratitude and love for each of you for your continued belief, support, guidance, dedication, compassion and devotion to serve. Pastors, many of you truly know the journey. I thank you personally for the prayers, coverage of love, daily reminder to keep pressing forward. WE now have Village HeartBEAT at the center of a national recognition and competition to save lives…Gratitude and love, Cheryl.”

The VHB project is designed to reduce heart disease incidence for 210,000 residents living in underserved African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods in the county. The project uses the following strategies, aligned with the Public Health 3.0 vision:

  • Fostering partnerships with other cross-sector organizations and increasing their participatory approach
  • Connecting participants to community-based social service providers to address social determinants of health
  • Providing training for ambassadors to create local policy changes and outreach to promote health behavior change within their congregations
  • Engaging additional faith-based organizations to extend the VHB program from 40 to 60 congregations and train a total of 600 community ambassadors

By 2018, these ambassadors will be assisting with outreach and fighting for local policy changes that will promote tobacco cessation, healthy dietary behaviors, and exercise. The ambassadors will get leadership training, motivational interviewing skills, and instruction on using a local resource portal to connect members of their congregation and community to social services. This outreach has the potential to impact the behavior of 30,000 people including 24,000 members of participating congregations and 6,000 community members. Check out their video.

Congratulations MCHD. Way to go, Cheryl!