UK awarded Innovative Cardiovascular Health Program to improve heart health in Kentucky

A doctor reaching out to a digital model of a heart and medical scan.
ipopba, iStock / Getty Images Plus.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 22, 2023) — UK HealthCare, its outreach and innovation arm the Kentucky Regional Extension Center (REC), and other state partners have been awarded the Innovative Cardiovascular Health Program by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. The five-year award is focused on comprehensive efforts to identify and respond to health care disparities in cardiovascular disease (CVD) and improve related outcomes, specifically those with hypertension and high cholesterol.

“This award could not come at a better time because Kentucky has among the highest rates of cardiovascular disease in the country,” said Vedant Gupta, M.D., a cardiologist at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute and co-principal investigator of the study. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Kentucky, with more than 1,500 deaths per every 100,000 persons per year. Health behaviors and conditions that contribute to cardiovascular disease are present at high rates in Kentucky with contributions from smoking, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, excessive alcohol use and physical inactivity. Therefore, we are excited that this project will expand upon efforts to improve cardiovascular health for Kentuckians.”

The Commonwealth ranks 10th in the country for the highest number of eligible census tracts — those that have a crude prevalence rate of 53% or higher for hypertension. Kentucky’s 20 census tracts will be the area of focus for this work. The majority are in Jefferson County, concentrated in six zip codes in northwest Louisville. The remaining two tracts are in the western portion of the state in Christian and McCracken counties.

The UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute already has existing partnerships with community hospitals in both Jefferson and McCracken counties through the Gill Affiliate Network. The statewide alliance leverages Gill’s cardiovascular specialists and experts to provide the region’s most comprehensive services, diagnostic assessment and therapeutic strategies.

By targeting the areas with high hypertension rates, the research team aims to strategically reduce health disparities, improve health outcomes for individuals living in these communities, and expand and disseminate evidence-based practices to health care providers and other support personnel to maximize the impact in the areas of greatest need.

“There has been a lot of great work across the Commonwealth to improve the care of CVD patients, and this funding gives us the opportunity to provide a coordinated effort to provide support and improve processes to ensure a high quality of care,” said Brent McKune, managing director of Kentucky REC and principal investigator of the grant.

UK’s Kentucky REC is a one-of-a-kind resource for Kentucky that facilitates health care transformation through technology innovation, performance improvement and technical support for a wide range of health care entities across Kentucky, including large health care systems, rural and critical access hospitals, and practices of varying sizes within the medical community.

This project has three strategies to improve CVD care:

  • Tracking and monitoring clinical measures shown to improve health and care quality while identifying patients with hypertension and high cholesterol in the targeted areas.
  • Implementing team-based care to prevent, detect, control and manage CVD.
  • Linking community resources and clinical services that support comprehensive systems for further care.

Kentucky REC will lead efforts to deliver on all three strategies while providing technical support for hospitals to use electronic health records and advance the use of health information systems.

“UK HealthCare’s mission ensures no Kentuckian has to leave our state to receive health care. How we diagnose and treat diseases through our advanced subspecialty care sets us apart, especially when it comes to cardiovascular care,” said Robert S. DiPaola, M.D., UK provost and co-executive vice president for health affairs. “This grant helps us fulfill our promise to advance Kentucky by supporting our world-class scientists, educators, researchers and practitioners.”

Focused on health equity in various communities, a learning collaborative focused on heart disease and strokes will be created through an interdisciplinary partnership made up of public health entities, health care providers and community leaders working to address and implement evidence-based practices for CVD prevention, detection, control and management within these priority populations.

The learning collaborative will tangibly address the project’s strategies by serving as a hub focused on developing innovative approaches to improve overall cardiovascular health and apply those approaches to the mitigation of social drivers of health and other associated factors.

It will bolster initiatives aimed at broadening care teams, encompassing health care professionals, community health workers, social workers, patient navigators, pharmacists and other care team members in community settings beyond health care facilities.

One of the partnering organizations in the targeted area is the Have a Heart Clinic in Louisville. Its mission is to elevate community health in the area by providing cardiovascular care, coordinated support services, health screenings and education to adult patients, regardless of their ability to pay or their insurance coverage.

Have a Heart Clinic’s Michael Imburgia, M.D., said, “the goal of this work will be to ensure that patients in this underserved area get the same level of care and education as all other communities.”

This project will also work to increase the use of standardized processes or tools, such as GIS or other geo-mapping tools, to identify, assess, track and address social services and support needs. Teams will also raise awareness about the benefits of home blood pressure monitoring with clinical support.

“We look forward to this exciting work and hope to lead the way in improving CVD-related care for the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” said Gupta.

This project is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $1 million with 0% financed with non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC, HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit  

About UK Kentucky Regional Extension Center (Kentucky REC)
The UK HealthCare Kentucky REC helps health care organizations large and small to transform to better serve their patients. The Kentucky REC specializes in advising and consulting on federal and state health care initiatives and government health care regulations for all organizations across the Commonwealth, including large health systems, rural and Critical Access Hospitals, and physician practices of all sizes. Kentucky REC employs subject matter experts who help health care organizations comply with changing federal regulations and national initiatives such as HIPAA, Promoting Interoperability, MACRA and Value-Based Payment, Quality Improvement, Data Validation, Telehealth, and Patient-Centered Medical Home and Specialty Practice.

About UK HealthCare Gill Heart & Vascular Institute
The UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute is at the forefront of the battle against heart disease and stroke in Kentucky and is nationally recognized as a leader in advancing the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease. Gill’s comprehensive approach to heart and vascular health begins with promoting cardiovascular wellness and extends to treating life-threatening complications with the newest therapies and devices. The institute’s multidisciplinary clinical team includes board-certified adult and pediatric cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons, vascular surgeons, cardiac radiologists and cardiac anesthesiologists working in state-of-the-art facilities available in the UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital. The complete cardiovascular program has the most sophisticated imaging capabilities in the region, as well as leading-edge interventional cardiology procedures including minimally invasive approaches to heart disease, exceptional surgical services for health and vascular disease, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and wellness programs.

UK HealthCare is the hospitals and clinics of the University of Kentucky. But it is so much more. It is more than 10,000 dedicated health care professionals committed to providing advanced subspecialty care for the most critically injured and ill patients from the Commonwealth and beyond. It also is the home of the state’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that cares for the tiniest and sickest newborns, the region’s only Level 1 trauma center and Kentucky’s top hospital ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

As an academic research institution, we are continuously pursuing the next generation of cures, treatments, protocols and policies. Our discoveries have the potential to change what’s medically possible within our lifetimes. Our educators and thought leaders are transforming the health care landscape as our six health professions colleges teach the next generation of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals, spreading the highest standards of care. UK HealthCare is the power of advanced medicine committed to creating a healthier Kentucky, now and for generations to come.