By Amy Kent
Herald Staff Writer
Heart failure affects more than 550,000 Americans each year and many of the causes behind heart failure can, more often than not, be prevented.
Some of the more common causes are things like high blood pressure, Coronary Artery Disease, diabetes, Valvular Heart Disease and obesity to name a few and, while there are several genetic conditions that cannot be prevented, many small life changes can stop a heart health emergency in its tracks.
This is why the nurses and staff at Genesis Visiting Nurses and Hospice and other medical facilities in Clinton have developed an initiative to promote healthy lifestyles for area residents of all ages.
“When you look at the statistics, heart disease just doesn’t affect the middle ged and the elderly anymore; it starts with the kids,” Genesis Community Health Manager Michele Cullen said. “When our county health rankings came out (last year), Clinton County scored very low in our health outcomes (ranking) 86 of 99. But, then really in terms of healthy behaviors, we ranked 99 out of 99. That’s really what started this whole thing.”
Because of those low-ranking health statistics, Cullen and other health professionals in the area started the “Let’s Live Healthy Clinton!” campaign.
It is designed to promote healthy behavior in all people of Clinton, as well as compel local organizations to develop policies that advocate healthy living.
“Let’s Live Healthy Clinton!’ is a whole group of community partners,” Cullen said. “And I think there’s a lot of interest out there and that’s why we want to get out with what I call some quick wins. They’re preventative things and helpful things that aren’t costing anybody any money.”
And while boosting heart health and healthful behavior in the community is the number one priority for Cullen and the “Let’s Live Heathy Clinton!” team, heart failure can still be a commonplace occurrence and after-care is an inevitable proceeding.
Which is where the visiting nurses of the Genesis health system come in.
Along with offering skilled care to patients who’ve experienced a heart crisis, such as a heart attack or heart failure, the number one role the Genesis Visiting Nurses play is that of educators.
“Education is huge. It’s so, they (patients) know what they’re doing that’s causing some of their (health concerns) or what they’re doing that’s going to make them better,” Nursing supervisor Noreen Johnson said. “Everybody should be accountable to themselves and they can be more accountable when they’re educated.”
Some of the tools the visiting nurses offer include informational pamphlets with quick tips on staying active, dietary plans that reduce the risks of heart emergencies, education on the different types of heart failure and daily tricks that can help lead to a speedy recovery.
According to the Genesis guide for living with heart failure, there are six steps for heart patients to keep themselves happy, healthy and hospital free.
The first step is to take the medication prescribed by the doctor following a heart event, a simple task that Johnson says can be one of the hardest to put into perspective.
“We do a lot of medication education because if they understand what their pills are doing for them, they might not skip them,” Johnson said. “If you’re taking a diuretic pill then you should take it. It is important to the recovery process.”
Other major areas where Genesis home health nurses focus their education on is, diet and exercise. It is highly encouraged that patients of heart failure or other heart events get regular exercise during the recovery process.
That could mean walking around the inside of the house, going out to get the mail or even walking to the end of the block. One important aspect Johnson reminds her patients is that exercise should be done in slow, incremental steps.
“We talk about taking their tasks incrementally, in steps, because if they get exhausted or short of breath we need to take a step back. It’s OK to take a rest,” Johnson said. “If they’re going to exercise after surgery they need to start slow. And then after a couple of days maybe increase it. Slow, incremental steps is very important to achieve their goals.”
And setting goals is something both Johnson and Cullen encourage for not only patients who have suffered from a health condition, but also those who are looking to get healthy and stay healthy.
Those small steps could mean the difference between joining the “Let’s Live Healthy Clinton!” challenge, or receiving care from the visiting nurses of Genesis after a heart event has already happened.