Jean O’Connor-Snyder interns are encouraged to find the stories and voices that make their summer placements unique. In her second community journalism thought piece, University of Alabama student Nicole Gardner profiles a valuable space for the public in Perry County that has emerged from a collaboration between a local nonprofit and a private university. 

The Perry County Health Department hosts the Cardiovascular Risk Reduction Clinic, known as the hypertension clinic, every Wednesday from 2-4 p.m.  The service is free to whoever walks in and helps people control blood pressure and other health problems such as diabetes, Dr. Pilar Murphy, who has been a part of the clinic for seven years, said.    

Started by Mrs. Francis Ford and Dr. Charles Sands III, the clinic is a collaboration between Sowing Seeds of Hope and the Samford University McWhorter School of Pharmacy. The clinic is staffed by Dr. Murphy, Registered Nurse Francis Ford, and  fourth year pharmacy students from Samford. 

“Basically, what we are trying to do is lower the rates of uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes and talk to people about their risk factors,” Dr. Murphy explained.

Originally from Arkansas, Dr. Murphy first came to Perry County for her post-graduate residency. “One of my goals was to work with African Americans with hypertension and diabetes, and that’s basically what I get to do,” Dr. Murphy said of her role at the Perry County Health Department.

In rural Alabama, cardiovascular diseases run rampant. The problem often begins with preventable diseases, such as diabetes or hypertension, that are left uncontrolled.

“So, if a patient has hypertension, for example, and they go for years and it’s not controlled, it can turn into congestive heart failure,” Dr. Murphy said.

Many factors contribute to the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases in the rural South. Areas such as Perry County have less access to health care specialists. A patient might need to drive an hour or more to see a specialist.

Furthermore, more poverty leads to poorer eating habits, which leads to obesity. That can put patients at risk for diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.

The culture of the South can also be a contributing factor. “The disease states are a result of the lifestyle,” stated Dr. Murphy. She explained that areas of the South can have a more sedentary lifestyle with diets often consisting of fried food and salt, both of which can lead to hypertension and diabetes.

She added that celebrations and meetings often center around food, typically unhealthy food. “When’s the last time you went to a party and they had kale?” Dr. Murphy asked. 

This is where the hypertension clinic gets involved. Many of the risk factors are easily controlled with the proper education. The clinic teaches patients how to interpret blood pressure numbers and how to use a monitor at home. Their goal is to arm patients with the education to take control of their own health.

“With the patients that we see, they are so much better educated about the disease state, and it makes a difference. You don’t see sweeping changes overnight, but just doing things in moderation, taking their medications, and knowing what questions to ask when they go to the physician makes a huge difference,” Dr. Murphy said.

-Nicole Gardner, Jean O’Connor-Snyder intern and University of Alabama Honors College student 

Marion, Alabama