Fergus has been personally working to bridge some of the public health messaging divides in black communities. She is the co-founder and director of Healthy Heart Series, a New York–based program that aims to reduce disparities in heart disease among vulnerable communities by way of improved education, health outreach, and medical prevention and intervention.
“It’s about creating a trusting situation where people learn from and gravitate to providers they trust, gain the knowledge, and ultimately do it for themselves,” she said. “When I started working in central Harlem, I found that people weren’t as trustful of doctors at first. We started out with 10 or 20 people in the monthly workshops, now we have 90 on average.”
She added, “We talk to them about everything: What are the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease…[and] what can you do for yourself?”
Fergus said that in her workshops and programs, she and her team emphasize common-sense approaches to managing heart health, like eating better, exercising more, learning about the right medications to take and when to take them, and more.
She also said they emphasize the importance of seeing a doctor regularly and finding affordable ways to access healthy food. A big barrier to being healthy can be finding affordable options.
Fergus pointed out that healthy food can be accessible at a community farmers market, and that heart-healthy food isn’t just found in a trendy, expensive health food store.
“Another big part is demystifying medications. People come in with high blood pressure who didn’t take their medications,” she said. “It’s all about a cultural conversation on health literacy.
Fergus said it’s rewarding to carry out this kind of work as a healthcare provider. Research like the new study is important because it shines light on disparities in healthcare and information access, but at the end of the day, change must be made in communities.
“We’ve seen improvements over time in doing this program. We see improvements in managing diet, blood pressure, blood sugar, and in quality of life over time,” she said. “It’s very fulfilling when you walk in and see a 70-year-old woman talk about what she’s doing to stay healthy.”