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CHW Health Disparities Initiative

Honoring the Gift of Heart Health in Five Alaska Native Communities


Between November 2008 and May 2009, the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) worked with community wellness advocates (CWAs) and health educators to successfully deliver education sessions from the Honoring the Gift of Heart Health (HGHH) manual. The program was conducted in five villages and communities across southeast Alaska: Haines, Juneau, Kake, Klawock, and Sitka.

The HGHH manual was used alongside SEARHC’s existing materials from CWAs and health educators. SEARHC had four health educators and CWAs who had received training at an NHLBI/Indian Health Service Alaska Regional Training held in 2006. The consortium partnered with the Alaska Native Medical Center to conduct a small train-the-trainer workshop where two additional CWAs were trained. Together, these six staff members were able to successfully conduct education sessions as part of the HGHH program.

Implementation Strategies

Local CWAs and health educators recruited 171 participants across five communities for the HGHH program. The participants were primarily Alaska Native women. Outreach included word of mouth and flyers placed at local post offices and on grocery store bulletin boards. In several cases, the HGHH sessions were included in group meetings that had already been planned as part of an existing program. The CWAs and health educators arranged the HGHH sessions around important community and cultural events, such as primary subsistence gathering times.

All HGHH sessions were held in public community spaces, such as libraries and churches. To attract attendees, the CWAs and health educators provided snacks or door prizes, in addition to having an “open-door” policy that welcomed walk-ins and latecomers.

To improve heart health awareness in Alaska Native communities, CWAs and health educators ran HGHH as community education sessions and used a flexible format in which only selected sessions were taught. Building on community members’ own experiences, the sessions presented important information and tips on how to adopt a heart healthier lifestyle. Group discussions helped build new relationships among community members.

Key Results/Outcomes

Attendees completed questionnaires both before and after each session to demonstrate what they had learned and share what they thought about the program. The questionnaires showed that participants, particularly those already living with a diagnosis of heart disease or diabetes, felt that the information about heart health was helpful and educational. Many said they liked the community-specific materials and suggested including even more Alaska Native imagery in the manual and handouts.

The results also showed that after attending these sessions:

  • Fourteen percent of participants increased their knowledge about topics related to heart disease.
  • Community-wide physical activity increased by approximately 25 percent.
  • The number of participants who were confident about how to prepare a heart healthy meal increased by more than 20 percent.

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Last Updated: June 2014