The results of a screening program at Erie County’s Auto Bureau locations are reflecting the typical poor statistics for cardiovascular disease seen across the region.
Wednesday is World Stroke Awareness Day, and for the three weeks leading up to it, visitors to auto bureau locations across Erie County have had the opportunity to be screened for cardiovascular health, with a particular focus on the potential for stroke.
The auto bureau partnered with Catholic Health and its Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo to provide free, fast, non-invasive mobile ultrasound testing.
"We take pictures of the arteries on the neck,” explained Susan Nappo, director of vascular services for Catholic Health. “We’re able to actually see inside those arteries and identify if there’s any areas of narrowing or blockages within the arteries. We can also identify the type of plaque build-up within those arteries to identify patients that are at risk for having an embolic stroke or a stroke from just the lack of blood flow.”
Out of 202 people screened, 38 percent had high blood pressure, and 12 individuals were found to be at high risk for stroke. Nappo said the 12 people reflect average results her team sees at screenings.
“We can see anywhere from 20 to 30 percent abnormal findings for all of our screening events,” said Nappo. “Unfortunately – whether it seems like it may be a little high – that is where we are in our county.”
According to a 2017-2019 community health assessment from the Erie County Department of Health, cardiovascular disease is the county’s leading cause of death. The rate of stroke death in the region is higher than the national rate, and nearly 60% higher than the aggregate rate across New York State.
“Erie County residents experience 33% more heart disease death than the average U.S. citizen,” it reads.
Catholic Health’s partnership with the Auto Bureau and its parent, the Erie County Clerk’s office, began in February with free blood pressure screenings at auto bureau locations. Mercy Hospital Director of Neuroscience Services Nancy Stoll said partnering with public office is the future of population health.
"Its how we have to go forward,” said Stoll. “We have to do things differently. We know people don’t see their doctor as much as they should. We know that information isn’t always shared the way it should.”
58 percent of residents in Buffalo and surrounding areas report visiting their doctors routinely, and having their blood pressure and cholesterol checked. That’s 17 percent lower than the national average.
Risk factors that can contribute to stroke and cardiovascular disease include high blood pressure and obesity. Both are trends seen at elevated rates in Erie County. Racial and economic disparities also have an impact.
Stroke can be prevented through exercise and management of blood pressure, change in diet, and avoiding smoking.
After the screenings, individuals with identified risks may be candidates for further testing and surgery depending on their condition. Nappo says the cost of those early interventions are minimal compared to the hundreds of thousands in care necessary after someone suffers a stroke.
Officials with the auto bureau say medical screenings combined with standard services will continue.
You can read Erie County's Community Health Assessment for 2017-2019 here.