SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Health Department is partnering with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore School of Pharmacy and local oral health providers to promote hypertension screenings at pharmacies and dental offices.
The local effort is part of a new statewide Hypertension and Oral Health initiative that encourages pharmacists and dentists to offer blood pressure screenings.
Kat Gunby, director of prevention at the health department, said the county began laying the groundwork for the campaign last year by working with partners in Wicomico and Somerset counties to host a symposium for local dentists.
“We started reaching out to them so that they can identify people with high blood pressure,” she said.
Gunby noted that research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that individuals are more likely to see a dentist in a given year than a primary care provider.
She explained that people are more likely to ignore symptoms of disease and sickness than a toothache.
“That is why I wholeheartedly believe this is an approach we need to take,” she said.
Since last year’s symposium, Gunby said a couple of dental offices in the area have expressed an interest in blood pressure screenings.
While interest has grown, Gunby said the health department will host a second symposium with partners in Wicomico and Somerset counties to educate additional dental practices on how to incorporate hypertension screenings for adult patients.
“Our hope is that this will push dentists who are on the fence over the fence,” she said.
In addition to the symposiums, the health department has expanded its partnership to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) School of Pharmacy to provide hypertension screenings at local pharmacies.
“It’s a multi-pronged approach,” Gunby said.
Pharmacy students at UMES will offer weekly blood pressure screenings from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Tuesday through the second week of December at the City Discount Pharmacy in Pocomoke. Students will also make referrals to primary care providers.
Gunby added that students will visit the north end of the county in January to provide screenings in Ocean Pines.
The final component, Gunby said, will be a public awareness campaign on hypertension that showcases Worcester County residents.
“It’s time to get the information out,” she said.
In Maryland, heart disease is the leading cause of death and kills more than 11,000 residents each year, according to the health department.
In Worcester County, 36.7 percent of all adult residents have a prevalence of high blood pressure, higher than the state average of 32.8 percent, according to most recent data from the 2017 Community Health Assessment.
Gunby said many are unaware of their condition, its seriousness and how to prevent and treat high blood pressure. She attributes local hypertension rates to lifestyle habits, as well as a rural and aging population.
“It is a silent killer,” she said. “People don’t know they have it.”
The health department said high blood pressure is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke but is controllable when identified and monitored.
“We are here to help people do that …,” she said, “so they can lead a healthy life.”
The health department encourages individuals to call 410-632-0056 for more information on the Hypertension and Oral Health initiative.