Every time I turn on the news about the COVID-19 pandemic, I hear about the highest risk groups of older adults and those with pre-existing conditions. And at the top of the list of conditions is heart disease. It was for this reason that our response to the coronavirus at WomenHeart has been swift and decisive. By the time various states started to declare states of emergencies, the WomenHeart team had already transitioned to working remotely and all WomenHeart Champion in-person activities had been suspended.
Yet, the list of unanswered questions grew as quickly as the virus spread. How long will we need to socially distance and remain apart from family and friends? How long will the women with heart disease who attend our WomenHeart support networks need to go without seeing their HeartSisters? How would WomenHeart weather this time of uncertainty, given its financial needs? What could be done for our Champions and the women they serve during this time?
As these questions were being asked, two things became abundantly clear:
- WomenHeart Champions and the women they serve need support now more than ever.
- It is our duty to determine how to deliver critically needed support during this time of social distancing.
We quickly understood that to support, educate and advocate on behalf of women with heart disease now, WomenHeart would need to scale up its capacity to deliver virtual programs. This includes training Champions to run their support network meetings remotely; launching the SisterMatch app so that women with heart disease can find support more easily and quickly; and communicating regularly, not only through email and social media, but by interacting via webinars to provide expertise and answer questions in real time for the WomenHeart community (watch our March 25th webinar with NHA member Dr. Rachel Bond).
Furthermore, we have had to change our plans for bringing all our stakeholders together for in-person meetings and hosting the annual Wenger Awards dinner on May 18th in Washington, DC. Like organizations around the country, we are working with the information available today to make decisions about when we may be able to once again bring our community together in person and, alternatively, how we can be innovative in bringing people together for learning and community in a virtual way. In any case, our commitment to honoring those who have achieved greatness for women’s heart health and to building comradery among our Champions and collaboration among our National Hospital Alliance members remains stronger than ever.
Despite the continued uncertainty, the WomenHeart family has come together to support this programmatic re-engineering. From funders asking what they could do to help, to the developers of our app working at a pace to launch the SisterMatch app ahead of schedule; from WomenHeart Champions signing up to learn how to run virtual support groups, to women heart health experts volunteering their time to share information on a webinar, there is no doubt that we are truly in this together. We are all doing what we can to support, inform and enable women across the U.S. to stay safe and thrive with heart disease in the time of COVID-19.
Update: Please visit this page for more information and resources on COVID-19 and heart disease.