A Million Hearts, a federal collaboration to prevent 1 million strokes and heart attacks by 2017, is at its halfway mark. And while organizers said Tuesday there are many shining examples of innovative prevention programs across the country, they also rallied for more public-private partnerships.

“Small, smart sustained actions can protect our family, friends and co-workers from heart attacks and strokes,” Dr. Janet Wright, executive director of Million Hearts told a webinar session at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  She said in order to meet its ultimate goal, the initiative must encourage 6.3 million smokers to quit, help 10 million people to control their hypertension and reduce sodium take in this country by 20 percent.

The gathering was part of Public Health Grand Rounds, a monthly webcast to discuss major health issues.  One in three deaths each year is attributed to heart attacks and strokes and incur nearly $1 billion a day in healthcare costs and lost productivity, according to information provided during the gathering.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Million Hearts in September 2011, leading the effort with the CDC and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The program focuses on increasing the number of communities who go smoke-free, decreasing sodium in the food supply, and eliminating trans-fat. It also calls for changes in the health care system to produce better performance in the ABCS (Aspirin when appropriate, Blood pressure control, Cholesterol management, Smoking cessation).

Tuesday’s presentation didn’t mention the total number of heart attacks and strokes Million Hearts may have prevented, but it highlighted examples of three successful programs from around the country:

  • Dr. Andrew Tremblay, a 2013 Hypertension Control Challenge Champion, about his New Hampshire community’s significant improvements in hypertension control.  By actions as simple as calibrating cuffs throughout the county to more complex ones such as creating collaborative treatment teams and free nurse clinics, the Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Keene, New Hampshire, increased its hypertension control rate by 12 points. It moved from 72.6 percent in 2012 to 85 percent 18 months later, meaning nearly 2,000 patients had their high blood pressure under control.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Public Health and how they changed tactics in response to budget cuts and continue to ramp up tobacco control efforts. By focusing on a vast network of public health departments and community partnerships, along with cigarette taxes and model regulations, the state saw a decrease in the number of high school students who smoke, from 14 percent to 10.7 percent.
  •  The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health about its successes in reducing sodium in its public meals and snacks, through the power of procurement.  In addition to education campaigns with schools, hospitals and county government entities that served food the health department created a series of guidelines in its food vendor contracts, such as requiring that water be placed at eye level and that snack food items have no more than 360 milligrams of sodium.  The county had a 57 percent reduction in the amount of salt in packaged snack items.

When the Million Hearts initiative was launched in September 2011, an American Heart Association presidential advisory called it an “unprecedented opportunity to bring (cardiovascular disease) prevention to the forefront of federal healthcare policy.”

The AHA is a private partner in the initiative.

The advisory also said the campaign has the potential to make a significant contribution to the AHA’s 2020 Impact Goal – to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent, while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent.

Wright on Tuesday said it was crucial to have collaboration among federal agencies, states, regions, communities and individuals on this common goal. And as a final reminder to those attending and listening to the webcast, she said, “the clock is ticking.”