Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest integrated health care system, has awarded a $2.55 million grant to support the American Heart Association’s efforts to improve  blood pressure control for African-Americans in two U.S. cities over a three year period.

The program will depend on community-based efforts as well as doctors and patients to help decrease the burden of the so called “silent killer,” aiming to create a model that can be replicated in communities across the country.

The initiative is a collaborative effort between clinics, health care providers, community organizations, volunteer health mentors and technology. The goal is to help patients track their blood pressure readings, share them with their caregivers and physicians and monitor their progress over time. Through the grant from the Kaiser Permanente National Community Benefit Fund at the East Bay Community Foundation, AHA will launch the Community to Clinic, Clinic to Community (C2C2): Improving Hypertension Control in Blacks and African-Americans initiative. It will initially roll out in Atlanta and San Diego.

“As a recognized leader in identifying, measuring and eliminating health care disparities, Kaiser Permanente has a long history of investing in research and programs that help improve the health and well-being of individuals and distinct populations,” said Bernard J. Tyson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente.  “We are proud to be a part of this effort, which will help raise awareness about the dangers of high blood pressure and ultimately help reduce the prevalence of heart attacks and strokes in the African-American community.”

“In the scheme of what we can do to address preventable heart disease, strokes and other health problems, taking on and bringing down uncontrolled high blood pressure can prevent heart disease and strokes and save lives.  It is that simple.” said American Heart Association Deputy Chief Science Officer Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H.

“Kaiser Permanente has shown that a clinic-based program works to control blood pressure better and the American Heart Association has shown that a community-based program works to control blood pressure better. It only makes sense to combine clinical care and community programs to build a comprehensive approach to control blood pressure,” Sanchez said.

Regular blood pressure checks are a key component of the program because high blood pressure often does not have symptoms. Patients will be offered an opportunity to enroll in the program, which will include access to the Heart360 online health management program. They can use Heart360 to track their blood pressure as well as other related health factors. The data will be accessible to the patient, a health mentor and a health care provider.

“This unprecedented initiative will connect the African-American community to patient centered, culturally competent tools and resources that meet them where they live, work and pray,” said Winston F. Wong, MD, MS, Medical Director, Community Benefit, and Director of Disparities and Quality Initiatives at Kaiser Permanente. “Our goal is to advance access to high-quality care for individuals typically not engaged with the health system, thereby reducing disparities of morbidity and mortality.”

The community location, which may include retail pharmacies, churches or community centers, will work in tandem with the clinic, reinforcing doctor’s orders, and even serving as a liaison between patient and clinic. In turn, the clinic staff will reinforce the patient’s relationship with the community site and volunteer health mentor, where they’ll be receiving encouragement and accountability for making healthy choices and staying on their medication.

The prevalence of high blood pressure in African-Americans is among the highest in the world. More than 40 percent of the black population in the U.S. has hypertension, with disproportionate rates among younger individuals. Higher rates of  untreated high blood pressure contribute to rates of kidney failure, strokes and heart attack in the black population well exceeding the U.S. average.

The initiative will also seek to raise public awareness of this issue through public service announcements, social media, and community-based campaigns stressing that controlling blood pressure is an urgent matter of life or death.

Community-based blood pressure programs have a proven track record for success. A Kaiser Permanente program doubled hypertension control over eight years among health plan participants in Northern California. The American Heart Association, working with Durham Health Innovations in Durham, North Carolina, improved blood pressure control by 12 percent over six months.