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$1 Million CareFirst Grant Funds School of Pharmacy Health Program

African-American Men in Baltimore Will Team Up to Fight Cardiovascular Disease

By Jeff Raymond
June 2, 2008

In a grassroots effort to reduce racial disparities in health care, the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst) are partnering to educate and empower African-American men in the greater Baltimore metropolitan area to improve their cardiovascular wellness. The Maryland cardio-Vascular men’s health Promotion, or MVP program, for short, has been made possible by a $1 million grant by CareFirst.

MVP will begin by enrolling 40 African-American men with risk factors of cardiovascular disease from University of Maryland emergency room sites and family practice centers, local churches and through community outreach. In completing the six-month program, participants will have their vital signs assessed, learn how to maintain healthy lifestyles and work towards their health goals. The men will also recruit two future participants each and serve as an MVP mentor. The initial three year pilot is designed to help 600 African-American men in Baltimore live longer, healthier lives with increased access to quality, affordable health care. During the program, MVP men will be helped in finding doctors and pharmacists and encouraged to lead healthy lifestyles.

“The team element and focus to reduce racial disparities in health care makes the MVP program a unique endeavor and one CareFirst is proud to support,” said Jon Shematek, M.D., CareFirst’s Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer. “There is no greater need than to combat cardiovascular disease, the single greatest killer of all Americans and which is most prevalent among African-American men.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that roughly 47,500 African-American men die each year from major cardiovascular diseases. Equally as alarming, African-American men have the shortest reported life expectancy in the U.S. (CDC).

Fadia Shaya, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Health Services Research at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy will lead the MVP initiative.

“Treating cardiovascular disease isn’t difficult, but too many African-American men don’t get diagnosed until heart attacks or strokes put them in the emergency room—or worse. The purpose of the MVP program is to empower men to take control over their health. We’re confident that having men build their own teams is a faster, more sustainable and effective way of promoting cardiovascular health than by reaching out to them one at a time. Each person can be an MVP for himself and his friends,” Dr. Shaya said.

The MVP program builds on the success of Hair, Heart and Health (HHH), an inner-city program in Baltimore and Washington D.C., funded by CareFirst and spearheaded in Baltimore by Elijah Saunders, M.D., Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. HHH has brought cardiovascular health education into barbershops and beauty salons, whereby customers are assessed by their barber or stylist for cardiovascular risk factors and recommended for follow-up with a specialist as appropriate.

Baltimore Orioles legend and Hall of Fame pitcher, # 22, Jim Palmer, is supporting the MVP program and serves on its board to help raise awareness about the dangers of cardiovascular disease and the power of teamwork in achieving the goal of good health. For his career, Palmer led Baltimore to three World Series titles over two decades of excellence and is the Orioles’ all-time leader in numerous categories, including most wins (268) and most strikeouts (2,212). Palmer is recognized as one of Major League Baseball’s all-time greatest pitchers and ambassadors of the game.

Additional organizations helping lead the charge against cardiovascular disease include MEDBANK of Maryland Inc., which can link qualified patients with free prescription medications; Total Health Care, whose doctors provide health services on a sliding fee scale to help make health care services more affordable regardless of social or financial barriers; and Bon Secours Hospital, providing facilities for enrollment and assessment.

The MVP program is governed by an advisory board comprised of leaders from Baltimore City, the University of Maryland, CareFirst, and the Baltimore community.

In its 71st year of service, CareFirst, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, is a not-for-profit health care company which, through its affiliates and subsidiaries, offers a comprehensive portfolio of health insurance products and administrative services to more than 3.2 million individuals and groups in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia. Through its CareFirst Commitment initiative and other public mission activities, CareFirst supports efforts to increase the accessibility, affordability, safety and quality of health care throughout its market areas. To learn more about CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, visit:

People interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to e-mail or call 410-706-8612.