Janet Wright
Janet Wright, executive director of the Million Hearts initiative, applauds Rochester's high blood pressure progress.

Rochester’s health initiatives are moving the needle on high blood pressure control rates and earning praise from national experts for reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.

Over the past five years, hypertension control for adults in Monroe County has improved 13.7 percent — an increase of more than 8 percentage points, according to clinical data collected by the High Blood Pressure Collaborative, a community-wide health campaign spearheaded by the region’s largest employers, hospitals and health insurance companies.

Today, 71.3 percent of individuals 18 and older in Rochester diagnosed with hypertension have their blood pressure under control — compared to the national average of 52 percent.

“The improvement that Monroe County was able to achieve in just five years is impressive and reflects a deep, community-wide commitment to health,” said Dr. Janet Wright, executive director of Million Hearts, a national initiative to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. “By focusing on blood pressure management, they are improving the heart health of their own residents and helping prevent possible cardiovascular events like heart attacks and stroke.”

Community experts point to a variety of initiatives that have contributed to the county’s high blood pressure success, including early work by the Greater Rochester Health Foundation, targeted incentives for clinicians through the hospital systems, refusal to sell cigarettes by businesses and reduction of salt in products by a local food manufacturer. Across the community, the High Blood Pressure Collaborative has supported initiatives in doctor’s offices, congregations, worksites, neighborhoods and hair salons and barbershops.

To track these multipronged efforts, the collaborative created the nation’s first community-wide high blood pressure registry, one that includes de-identified clinical data from competing hospital systems as well as independent practices. As of June 2015, the registry contained the electronic data of 121,337 Monroe County patients, which represents 69 percent of adults estimated to have high blood pressure.

“The region’s success reminds us that health care is a team sport,” said Dr. Michael Nazar, executive vice president and chief of Medical Groups for Rochester Regional Health and chair of the High Blood Pressure Collaborative’s best practices committee. “Doctors can’t do it alone. Patients and the community as a whole have to be committed to lifestyle and behavior change. If we put all these things together, we can take better care of people.”

Based on national and local rates, one third of adults in the Finger Lakes region are estimated to have hypertension, defined as blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or more. The condition contributes to one half of heart disease deaths and is a leading cause of stroke and kidney failure. According to a 2014 report by Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield, the cost of treating patients who did not keep their high blood pressure in check with medications was estimated to be $319 million for six counties in the Finger Lakes region, including Monroe County.

However, the dangerous condition can be addressed. “We are in a golden age for hypertension,” explains Dr. John Bisognano, professor of medicine at the University of Rochester and president-elect of the American Society for Hypertension. “Treatments for the condition are effective, well-tolerated and downright cheap — and the benefits are huge!”

High Blood Pressure Collaborative Chair Paul Speranza said partnership is the key. The collaborative engages business, labor, physicians, hospital systems, health insurance companies, higher education, faith-based institutions and dozens of other community organizations and is a joint project of Rochester Business Alliance and Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency.

“Collaboration is hard work and hard work every day,” said Speranza, the vice chairman and secretary of Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. “We owe a large debt of gratitude to our CEO group and our extraordinary group of dedicated experts and volunteers who have been meeting every Thursday morning for two hours, while doing significant work in between meetings, for the last 10 years. There is nothing like this anywhere else in America.”

In the Headlines

Democrat and Chronicle - Nov. 5, 2015 -Healthy results can be the norm

Democrat and Chronicle - Nov. 2, 2015 -More people getting blood pressure under control

Rochester Business Journal - Nov. 2, 2015 - Effort to curb high blood pressure achieves results

News10 NBC -Nov. 2, 2015  Managing your high blood pressure

WXXI News - Nov. 2, 2015 FLHSA Reports Results From High Blood Pressure Collaborative

Rochester Business Alliance - Nov. 2, 2015 - High Blood Pressure Control Improves More Than 13 Percent in