Community Programs Help Improve Heart Health and Share Lessons Learned

By: Rich Buckley, President, AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation and Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs, AstraZeneca

Left to right: James W. Blasetto, MD, MPH, FACC, Chairman, AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation; Karen Kaashoek, Executive Director, Catherine’s Health Center; Rich Buckley, President, AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation; and Amy Ponpipom, Secretary, AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation

Approximately every 40 seconds someone in the United States dies of cardiovascular disease. This alarming statistic from the American Heart Association highlights the importance of finding innovative ways to address this devastating disease. The AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation is committed to doing just that through our Connections for Cardiovascular HealthSM (CCH) program. Since 2010, we have provided grant funding to 49 non-profit organizations in the United States to help improve cardiovascular health in their communities.

Recently, we brought our current Grant Awardees together for a Learning Forum to support their efforts to share lessons learned (see a video recap here), with the goal of helping other organizations address similar urgent and unmet needs in their communities. Throughout the two-day event, I was impressed by the incredible work our Grant Awardees do every day to move the needle on heart health in our nation, one person at a time.

Just one example is Catherine’s Health Center (Grand Rapids, MI), who faced some serious challenges in 2012 after transitioning from a volunteer, nurse-run clinic housed in the basement of a church to a 6,500-square foot clinic. The clinic’s Executive Director, Karen Kaashoek, heard about CCH from a colleague and decided to apply for funding. That was six years ago and since then, the clinic has received CCH funding totaling nearly $925,000.   

Below, Karen shares her experience building capacity through the CCH program and how she is helping other organizations to do the same.

Tell us about your cardiovascular health program and how it impacted your community.

Karen: Our Live Heart Smart suite of programs has evolved over six years in response to the healthcare landscape and the needs of our community. We offer outreach, education, screenings, health coaching and access to care, as well as health insurance navigation support and mental health services. Over 2,000 patients have participated in our programs, and we’ve seen the impact – patients are lowering their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels and improving their lifestyle habits.

Would you share an example of how your program helped a participant?

Karen: When Mary* came to our program, she was overweight, with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. She was pre-diabetic and struggling with depression and anxiety, but ready for a change in her life. After actively participating in our program and receiving behavioral health support, she took control of her health and decreased her blood pressure, body mass index and triglycerides. She also sleeps better, has less anxiety, made new friends, and now gardens with her grandkids.

How are you sharing lessons learned from your program and why is this important?

Karen: We began with our community stakeholders and branched out to other organizations as we became more comfortable. More recently, we submitted abstracts for sessions at more widely attended health conferences and forums. By sharing our approach, outcomes and lessons learned, we’ve generated interest from other funders who have decided to support our work. We hope other organizations will be inspired by our success and try something they might not have imagined before.

Share your thoughts on the Learning Forum and what it meant for your organization.

Karen: It is very helpful and inspiring to network with other Grant Awardees who share a passion to help improve heart health. Even though our organizations’ target populations and programs are different, there are common challenges we face, and we can learn from each other. Catherine’s is a stronger, more effective and sustainable organization because of our involvement with the CCH program. I truly believe that we would not be what we are today if we didn’t apply for and receive that first year of funding.

What advice would you give other organizations considering applying for CCH funding?

Karen: You need to believe in your program. And don’t be afraid to aim high. We had never applied for a nationally competitive program of this scope before. The CCH program’s priorities were a perfect match for what we were hoping to do – and we knew we were reaching high, but we also knew we had to try. Now we are making a difference and sharing that knowledge with others.

To learn more about the CCH program and how to apply for funding in February 2018, please visit

The AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation is a tax-exempt entity organized under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and is separate from AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals.