Partner Spotlight: Fighting Heart Disease in Florida


In recognition of American Heart Month, we’re highlighting one of our Florida health center partners on the front lines of helping people in need access preventative care and treatment for heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.

Miami Beach Community Health Center (MBCHC) is one of a small number of community health centers with a cardiologist on staff.

Because heart disease accounts for one out of every four deaths in the U.S. each year, MBCHC’s Vice President of Pharmacy Services, Ray Sawaged, says cardiology is one of the most beneficial specialties to be able to offer the patients. Nearly 600 of their patients were diagnosed with heart disease in 2013 alone.

“The majority [of our patients] are uninsured. They don’t have the means or the money to get to a private cardiologist. Even in the public hospital, it can take up to four months to get an appointment,” he said.

With six sites in Miami-Dade County, MBCHC serves the most vulnerable people in the Miami Beach area.  No one is turned away, even if they cannot afford care. Last year, MBCHC saw more than 26,000 patients, half of whom did not have insurance.

While people of all economic backgrounds are at risk for heart disease, individuals with low incomes are much more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, and stroke than their high-income peers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This means that health centers like MBCHC, who provide care for America’s safety net population, are likely to see a substantial number of patients at high risk for heart disease. In fact, Sawaged said that while hypertension is one of the more common conditions among MBCHC’s patients, needs among their six sites vary. He said the North Miami site serves many patients in the Haitian community, which tends to have a higher incidence of hypertension and diabetes.

Not only do chronic conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol – both risk factors for heart disease – account for a significant percentage of total services provided by MBCHC, but they require more services over a longer period of time, thereby adding disproportionate stress on staffing and budgets.

With an ever-growing need for their services, it’s not always easy for MBCHC to maintain their policy of treating everyone who walks in their door, regardless of ability to pay.

“We’re seeing more and more [patients] that cannot afford health care… it’s a challenge to handle the demand with the resources we have,” said Sorangely Menjivar, senior executive vice president of patient services.

That’s why donations from Direct Relief are important. Direct Relief has been supporting MBCHC with free medicines and supplies, including hypertensives and cholesterol medications, for more than five years. MBCHC receives ongoing Safety Net Support, is part of the Replenishment Program, and is a Hurricane Preparedness Program partner.

“A lot of times, the patients can’t afford the medications they need,” said Sawaged. “With Direct Relief’s support, it makes it possible for the patient to get the medication free-of-charge on the same day they need it.”

Sorangely added that donated medicine programs, such as Direct Relief’s, are tremendously helpful because it allows the health center to use its funds and resources in other programs to continue providing services, rather than for purchasing medicines.

“We’re grateful for the programs. Our patients really need it,” said Menjivar.

Sawaged agreed. “Many of the patients are taken aback by how we can provide all of this care… there have been times the patient is so grateful that they are teary-eyed or even give me a hug of appreciation.”

Direct Relief is honored to work with health centers like MBCHC that are committed to helping people in need access life-saving health care.

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