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Chronic Disease

House Leaders Announce Effort to Get Heart-Healthy

By Rose Hoban

Amid a work environment in which tempers often flare and backroom deals raise hackles, doctors and nurses fanned out in the North Carolina State Legislative Building Wednesday to take blood pressures and advise people on how to protect their hearts.

Dr. Sarah Mayer from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center takes Tracey Johnson's blood pressure at the General Assembly building. Johnson, from Washington County, was in Raleigh to lobby for the day. Photo: Rose Hoban

Dr. Sarah Mayer from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center takes Tracey Johnson’s blood pressure at the General Assembly building. Johnson, from Washington County, was in Raleigh to lobby for the day. Photo: Rose Hoban

The effort was part of a new initiative to help those who work at the General Assembly – legislators, staff, lobbyists and reporters – create a more heart-healthy workplace.

Family-practice doctor Sarah Mayer from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem was performing blood-pressure screening in one of the legislative building’s four courtyards.

One patient, who had an elevated reading, was sitting on a bench nearby, waiting to get a second reading.

Mayer said she’d taken dozens of blood-pressure readings in the two hours she’d been on duty, and that the numbers had been all over the map.

During a press conference to announce the initiative, House Speaker Thom Tillis said members needed to have healthier options in the cafeteria and snack bars and take advantage of exercise opportunities.

“I don’t think we’d do a complete revamp, because when you get the fried squash and fried okra caucus going, that would be a bipartisan opposition,” Tillis said to laughter.

But he said he would like to look at some potential changes in the three food venues on the General Assembly campus.

“We’re not going to dictate what food you eat,” Tillis said. “We’re going to encourage you to understand what the options are and which options are best for you.”

He also pointed out that there is no shower in the legislative complex for those members who want to take an exercise break.

Tillis talked about how Rep. Becky Carney (D-Charlotte) lost weeks of work after her heart attack at the legislative building in 2010.

“So this is a workplace productivity issue; this is a good-business issue,” he said. “It’s not just about good health outcomes.

House Speaker Thom Tillis speaks about improving heart health while flanked by family medicine doctor Brian Forrest and Rep. Becky Carney (D-Charlotte) who had a heart attack while at the Legislative building three years ago. Photo: Rose Hoban

House Speaker Thom Tillis speaks about improving heart health while flanked by family medicine doctor Brian Forrest and Rep. Becky Carney (D-Charlotte) who had a heart attack while at the Legislative building three years ago. Photo: Rose Hoban

“When you have a condition like high blood pressure, that affects 90 percent of the people over time – most of the time when they’re in their wage-earning years. It has a significant impact on workplace productivity.”

However, in the Senate budget presented earlier this week, the Justus Warren Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Task Force had its annual meetings cut in half and lost its ability to form subcommittees to study special issues.

When asked about the cut, Tillis answered that it was done “on the other side of the building.”

He said he hadn’t looked at that measure yet, but added, “I don’t know what the motivation was on that particular measure. But ask me about it in two weeks, when we intend to send the budget back, and you’ll see where our position is on it.”

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