Heart Healthy Hoosiers: Expanding access to care


Heart Healthy Hoosiers is a free program that provides cardiovascular screenings and lifestyle coaching services. Initiated through Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funding to the Indiana Department of Health, the southern Indiana program is offered in partnership by the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington and Ascension St. Vincent Evansville.  With leadership from Dr. Priscilla Barnes at the IU School of Public Health Bloomington, the southern region is served by Amy Todd and Gina Townsend--two nurses who have worked tirelessly to cultivate the program in southern Indiana.

Townsend, originally from Ohio, moved to Evansville several years ago and joined Ascension St. Vincent Evansville. Hailing from urban areas, rural culture was unfamiliar territory for her. In her transition from urban to rural practice, Townsend observed noticeable disparities in healthcare access and health education. As a part of Heart Healthy Hoosiers, Townsend works to close these gaps through screenings, advisement, and coaching.

Townsend is also a faith community nurse. Faith Community Nurses (FCNs) go through additional training to comprehensively further their abilities as a nurse to address the overall health of a patient.

“[FCNs] also learn about how to do things like active listening, motivational interviewing, some of those types of processes that we touch on in nursing school but with these classes, hone their skills a little better,” Todd said. She explained that FCNs learn about whole person-centered health focusing on the spiritual, physical, intellectual, creative, and emotional aspects of healthcare. Additionally, as nurses within their congregations, FCNs are often better connected and trusted within their communities.

Several recent health collaborations have united IU and community organizations throughout the region. Through a Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) initiative facilitated by Dr. Barnes, the IU Center for Rural Engagement, School of Public Health-Bloomington, and community members, rural counties focused on addressing the physical and mental health of their communities. The Indiana University School of Nursing also developed a community-focused partnership that offered preventative health screenings in two counties, Orange and Martin. Todd, also a faith community nurse, assisted with the program, engaging the community and guiding nursing students through health promotion and education.

If I can even go out and change the life of one person or help one person along their health journey, I view it as a success.

Gina Townsend, Faith Community Nurse

Southern Indiana Heart Healthy Hoosiers now serves 13 counties, recently adding Pike, Posey, Gibson, and Warrick. Townsend holds screenings in a variety of public places, including libraries, churches, YMCAs, food pantries, and recovery centers. Screenings are also held at different times, including after regular business hours to accommodate those that cannot attend due to day jobs. Both nurses work to establish partnerships with organizations and people that are already trusted in these communities to accelerate their ability to make a meaningful impact.  

“If I can even go out and change the life of one person or help one person along their health journey, I view it as a success,” said Townsend. 

To schedule an appointment with Heart Healthy Hoosiers, email hhteam@iu.edu.

The IU Center for Rural Engagement improves the lives of Hoosiers through collaborative initiatives that discover and deploy scalable and flexible solutions to common challenges facing rural communities. Working in full-spectrum community innovation through research, community-engaged teaching and student service, the center builds vision, harnesses assets and cultivates sustainable leadership structures within the communities with which it engages to ensure long-term success.