Federal Grant Results In Hypertension Pilot Program On Shore

BERLIN – Health departments in Maryland and five other states will each receive $500,000 in funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a two-year pilot program that screens patients for hypertension at the dentist’s office.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said it will conduct the pilot program in Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset counties and Baltimore in a statement released Monday.

Each area was chosen based on its health history and socioeconomic characteristics.

Worcester County Health Department Prevention Director Kat Gunby says funds given to the state will give more support at the local level, but says the money is not what drives the mission of the health department.

Gunby says the Health Department will not receive additional funding for this fiscal year, which is already underway, but will re-allocate her time, materials and group to address this new method.

A 2016 Community Health Assessment of Worcester County states that hypertension among adults is higher than both state and national averages.

Two-year averages from 2011 to 2013 shows 36.7 percent of adults within the county have high blood pressure.

These numbers increase to 65.6 percent among Medicare beneficiaries.

The state averages for high blood pressure for adults and Medicare beneficiaries are 32.8 and 59.5 percent, respectively.

Gunby says hypertension is a silent killer among adults and people do not display symptoms with this disease.

Dentists will now be another resource to identifying, controlling and preventing hypertension in the state of Maryland, and will benefit those with health risks and individuals without a medical provider.

Hypertension can lead to stroke and other heart diseases if not properly controlled and treated.

In Worcester County, 16.7 percent of adults have some form of cardiovascular disease, more than double the state average of 7.5 percent, according to two-year data from the Health Assessment.

Gunby says the CDC’s goal is to lower hypertension prevalence throughout the nation to 26.9 percent.

But diabetes, a common factor in hypertension, continues to rise in Worcester County.

“A lot of people don’t know the issues and connections with chronic diseases,” Gunby says. “We are educating citizens about high blood pressure.”

The purpose of the CDC grant and the hypertension screenings is to encourage collaboration between each state’s chronic disease and oral health programs.

“Disease does not know geographic boundaries and county lines, Gunby says.

Gunby says Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset counties have limited resources and do a lot of interagency collaboration for oral health and prevention programs.

An example of this is the Tri County Diabetes Alliance, which helps area residents with diabetes reduce their risk of other health complications, such as hypertension.

Oral health providers will now be a part of this puzzle for health officials in the tri-county area.

The Health Department currently has plans to host an Oral Health Symposium in February, where speakers from Atlantic General Hospital will clarify the connections among chronic diseases to attendees.

Gunby says the grant will support these programs, and will address communication among various health providers.

The $3 million in funding will also be divided among health departments in Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, and New York for the hypertension pilot program.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.