HAZARD — Eastern Kentucky continues to rank as one of the least healthy regions in term of heart health, though one partnership aims to strengthen cardiovascular care in Perry County.
The partnership between Hazard ARH and the University of Kentucky Medical Center will also make it easier for local patients who would have normally traveled elsewhere for this type of care.
Dr. Michael Karpf, executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Kentucky, said that with heart disease being such a major issue in Kentucky, offering the best care is important. According to state data, here in Perry County the instances of death from heart disease nearly doubles the state average.
“Heart disease is a particularly pressing health challenge for Eastern Kentucky and the entire commonwealth,” said Karpf. “That’s why we are working together and with community physicians to establish collaborative agreements where we leverage the best of what two strong health organizations bring to the table in attacking this critical health issue.”
The agreement will be finalized in the coming days and will last for at least three years with the possibility of extension.
Karpf noted that one of the major improvements that need to be made in the region regarding heart health care is in continuing care and providing education.
“One of the keys to better health outcomes is ensuring standards and protocols for continuity of care,” Karpf said. “These two organizations, UK HealthCare and ARH, are steadfastly committed to high-quality health care, but also to the region that we serve. A management agreement serves to underscore our commitment to further improving that care and those outcomes for people throughout Eastern Kentucky.”
Diet can also play an important role in heart health. A 2011 study of the heart healthy food options in Perry County showed that the area severely lacks low fat and low sodium options. Kevin Luley, a registered nurse at the University of Kentucky Medical Center and winner of the Heart Health in Rural Kentucky grant, surveyed all of the restaurants and grocery stores in Perry County, concluding that most do not have many off-the-shelf options for a healthy diet.
Of all of the items available at the restaurants in Perry County, less than six percent can be considered healthy, according to the study. Only 18 percent of all of the canned goods sold in the grocery stores are low in sodium. Of a standard list of produce items, on average only 60 percent were found at the local grocery stores.
Luley theorized that these numbers could be indicative of the supply and demand in the area since many low-income families often are forced to choose the cheaper, less healthful option over the more expensive healthy option. Additionally, Perry County’s rate of poverty at 27.3 percent is 10 points higher than the state as a whole.
“Even if residents in Perry County had access to heart healthy foods at their local grocer, they may not be able to afford them on a regular basis,” Luley noted in the study.
These numbers are compounded with the geographical isolation of the area. While the places with the healthiest options tend to be found in the most populated area of Perry County, Hazard, some people cannot make the trip from out in the rural parts of the county to Hazard when picking up a few items for dinner.
While the purchasing and eating choices will always be left to the individual, Luley said that it should be the responsibility of the health care provider to make patients aware of the good choices they can make.
“If it is determined that a patient is going to have some kind of barrier to obtaining heart healthy foods, steps need to be taken by the health care provider to teach the client what options are available to them,” wrote Luley. “The first step is education. In many cases food that is unhealthy ordered directly off the menu can me made healthy, or at least healthier, by asking to hold toppings such as mayonnaise or requesting that their item be baked and not fried.
Like many other diseases plaguing the United States, and especially rural areas, heart disease is two-fold. It can be a hereditary condition passed down through generations or caused by unhealthy choices. In either case, problems with the heart can be both prevented and improved by making good life style choices.
Since so many people now carry around powerful yet small computers in their pockets, every day food items can be quickly and efficiently looked up for fat and sodium content. Several applications for smart phones offer lists of nutritional facts for fast food and chain restaurants.
The American Heart Association website also offers tips, tricks, resources, and advice for all kinds of heart conditions and lifestyle changes that can prevent further complications.