NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – If you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure, there are a few ways most doctors will tell you to treat it: lifestyle changes, medication and using a blood pressure cuff.

Doctors at Sentara are looking for ways to improve that care plan, and they’re hoping to help people in underserved communities while they’re at it.

Keeping hearts healthy and increasing health equity are the two goals of a new research program at Sentara, funded by a $3.4 million grant.

“The bottom line is we want to save lives,” said Dr. Keith Newby, Sentara Health Medical Director of Health Equity. “That’s the bottom line. How do we save lives? Well, we have to save a life by identifying there’s an issue, and addressing that issue.”

In this case, the issue is hypertension, or high blood pressure. The CDC said it impacts 47% of American adults.

“I don’t want to see our hospitals overrun with heart failure patients because of simple blood pressure control,” Newby said.

The Health Equity Team and Sentara’s Health Research Center are about to embark on a five-year research study focused on hypertension.

“It really fits in with what Sentara was already doing, that is trying to reach out the community and engage the community better to try to address things like hypertension, obesity, diabetes and those types of chronic diseases that affect vulnerable populations,” said Dr. John Brush, Sentara Health Chief Research Officer. “So it’s going to be $3.4 million that’s coming our way.”

That grant is coming from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute — or PCORI — and is in partnership with Yale University, Massachusetts General Hospital and Houston Methodist Hospital.

“There’s an enormous opportunity to do better in the care of people with hypertension,” Brush said.

The first part of the study is using community partners to find people in underserved communities who need care and may not have access to it.

“Already, Sentara is reaching out to community based organizations, like churches and homeless shelters, food banks, to try to find patients who are vulnerable, have untreated health problems,” Brush said.

Then, the patients will be broken up into two groups. One group will have a remote blood pressure monitoring system that sends data to Sentara.

“We’re talking essentially about devices that allow them to not only check their blood pressure, but record it,” Newby said. “They wouldn’t have access to it otherwise. They wouldn’t have the ability to have that.”

The second group would also have that technology, plus an additional resource: health workers who go to their homes to check on them.

“That’s where that community health worker comes in,” Newby said. “They can identify those early problems and try to give them that information and help they need so that they are able to live their best life.”

Their goal is to find the best way to treat high blood pressure.

“We’re hoping to discover a model of care that will be more effective than what we’re doing now,” Brush said. “We’re hoping to improve the care of people with high blood pressure because ultimately what we’re trying to do is to reduce the number of people who end up having strokes and heart failure and renal failure, and all those complications that come with hypertension.”

In doing that, they also hope to increase healthy equity and save lives.

“What I would like to see is 15, 20 years from now, we’re seeing less people in dialysis centers, we’re seeing less people in the grave early, less people with heart failure,” Newby said. “And that, to me, is the goal.”

Want to participate?

Researchers are looking to enroll about 480 people in this study over the course of two years. If you are interested in participating in this study — or know someone who would be a good candidate — contact the Sentara Health Research Center at 757-252-3281 or email