High Heart-Failure Rate in San Bernardino County Prompts New Helpline

Nearly 20 percent of San Bernardino County residents enrolled in the state’s low-income insurance program are treated for heart failure — an alarmingly high rate.

In response, a nonprofit has created a helpline that will facilitate care, with referrals to doctors, exercise programs, nutrition advice and transportation to clinics.

The Stronger Hearts Helpline, created by the National Forum for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, aims to help San Bernardino residents better manage heart disease.

“Many people with heart failure don’t fully understand the intricacies of the disease; to them, it may sound like a death sentence,” Maxwell Ohikhuare, health officer for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, said in a release.

The national nonprofit chose San Bernardino to pilot the new helpline because of its high rate of heart failure. Nationwide the rate of heart failure treatment is 14 percent.

For every 100,000 San Bernardino residents age 65 and older, about 740 die each year from heart failure, according to the nonprofit. Comparably, the rate is 605 people statewide and 619 people nationwide.

San Bernardino residents can call the helpline by dialing 2-1-1 or 888-435-7565 and asking to speak to operators with the Stronger Hearts Helpline. The helpline, which adds to the county’s existing referral hotline, is open all-hours and is free of charge.

Heart failure affects more than 5.1 million people in the U.S., with one in five Americans developing the condition in their lifetime.

The National Forum, which hopes to expand the service nationwide, wants to help people avoid being hospitalized for preventable problems.

“The more patients know about heart failure and how to manage it — and the more access they have to supportive resources — the more successful they will be in staying as healthy as possible,” said Clyde W. Yancy, chief of the Division of Cardiology and associate director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine & Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Yancy also chairs the National Forum heart-failure task force that created the helpline.

Heart failure is most common in people age 65 and older and is the top reason elderly people are hospitalized, according to National Institute of Health statistics cited by the National Forum.

Heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of the body, resulting in increased blood pressure and fluid retention in the limbs or organs. A variety of conditions that weaken the heart cause the health problem, including coronary artery disease, diabetes, heart attack, high blood pressure and congenital heart defects.

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