Local Librarian's Health Journey Begins with Higi Machine Discovery

May 31, 2024


The New Port Richey Public Library has been a sanctuary for knowledge seekers for more than a century. Its shelves hold countless stories, but on a warm October day in the picturesque building nestled in the city’s downtown, a new chapter unfolded for Jessica Meredith. A story that would resonate far beyond the stacks of books. 

As the library’s youth education librarian, Meredith helps foster a love of reading among young library patrons, contributing to their discovery of learning. But there was one discovery she had yet to uncover: her own health. 

While at work one day last fall, Jessica checked her blood pressure at the Higi Smart Health Station inside the library. This kiosk is one of five stations currently installed in local libraries as part of BayCare’s and American Heart Association’s (AHA) Libraries With Heart initiative and funded by BayCare’s Community Health Needs Assessment. There are plans to expand to eight Higi Smart Health Stations in libraries across three Tampa Bay counties. As part of the partnership, BayCare sponsors Higi stations in select libraries and provides funding to support the overall program, including blood pressure cuffs, education and screening events, and other resources to promote heart health. 

“I just really wanted to try it out; I didn't normally check my blood pressure,” shared Meredith. “It wasn't anything that I had in the forefront of my mind. I didn't have any symptoms. I had no reason to really think that there was an issue. So, when the Higi machine was installed, staff started using it pretty frequently, and I used it a few times in October and November.” 

The Higi machine was user-friendly, its touchscreen guiding Meredith through the registration and health screening process. She sat still for a few minutes, as instructed, allowing her heartbeat to settle. The cuff tightened around her arm, and the digital display blinked to life. Her blood pressure was 225/110 mm Hg, a reading much higher than a normal 120/80 mm Hg result*. Meredith’s librarian instincts kicked in—she needed to learn more.  

“The machine immediately told me that this was a hypertensive crisis, and I needed to be seen by a medical professional,” added Meredith. “And of course, me being me, I thought, I'm running around at work and I'm sure there's a degree of inaccuracy and I feel fine. So, I don't understand what the big deal is.” 

Meredith decided to check her blood pressure again another day. A couple more weeks went by, and she noticed every time she would check it, it resulted in a similar reading.  On the advice of a medical professional friend and a few other people, Meredith knew that walking around with elevated blood pressure was concerning.  

She visited Morton Plant North Bay Hospital, just minutes from the library, to be seen and treated for her hypertensive issues. Tests revealed that she had perfect blood work and no kidney issues. Her echocardiogram and chest X-ray showed no issues, either. So, for Meredith, it came down to genetics.  

“I'm very thankful that we did have the Higi machine here in the building, because I would have had no reason to have checked my numbers,” added Meredith.  

And now that she has taken the next steps in her health journey, she continues to use the Higi machine and services offered at the library including a home blood pressure kit (available for circulation for community members) and the American Heart Association’s “Check. Change. Control.” class.

A woman with short blonde hair pulled back wearing a green dotted dress stands in front of a wall-mounted TV screen. The text on the screen behind her reads: Stroke is a leading cause of death and long-term disability.  The right side of the screen has the text that reads:  About 795,000 Americans each years suffer a stroke (that's a stroke every 40 seconds).  Stroke is the No. 5 cause of death in the U.S. and No. 2 worldwide.
American Heart Association's Vice President of Community Impact, Tampa Bay Courtney Burt teaches a “Check. Change. Control.” class at the New Port Richey Public Library.


Libraries With Heart Initiative 

The four-month long class, taught by AHA employees at the New Port Richey Library as part of the Libraries With Heart initiative, focuses on reducing risk for high blood pressure. Those interested can register online (walk-ins are also accepted). Each month, the class covers such topics as blood pressure education, sodium reduction, eating healthy, medication adherence, physical activity and stress management.  

“Through the Libraries With Heart initiative, patrons can check out clinically validated blood pressure devices and monitor their blood pressure readings at home,” noted Courtney Burt, American Heart Association’s vice president of community impact, Tampa Bay.  

Each session provides tools and resources, like portion plates and resistance bands, but the learning and support doesn’t end there.  

“Unless we teach them how to be successful in those health journeys and give them the educational components, it doesn’t create that holistic approach,” added Burt. “We teach them how they can eat better and move more with simple things. For instance, we teach individuals they don't have to spend 60 minutes in the gym to get a good outcome. They can start incorporating three 10-minute walks a day.”  

As for Meredith, she is also taking advantage of resources available to her through the library. She now uses an at home blood pressure cuff and she keeps a journal to track her readings and activities. As a busy mom and full-time librarian, Meredith has made small steps to take control of her health and has been more aware of her diet.  

"Now, in addition to having the right medication, I keep things in check,” said Meredith. 

The librarian who catalogs stories found herself living one. The Higi Smart Health Station transformed her life, and in turn, she hopes others will also benefit from her story.  

“I’m so thankful for the Higi machine downstairs, the Libraries With Heart initiative, and for the medical professionals in my life who encouraged me to be proactive with my health and not ignore my readings.”  

Burt added, “We wanted to get innovative and bring health care right to where there's a trusted community partner. The libraries are amazing for that.” 

BayCare Community Outreach Coordinator Katie Deasaro added, “In the 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment, the community identified three top health priorities: Access to Health and Social Services, Behavioral Health and Exercise, Nutrition and Weight. BayCare is proud to partner with American Heart Association to address our commitment to addressing the community’s health by providing support for the Libraries With Heart program.”  


Learn more about BayCare’s Community Benefit work and the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA): Community Health Needs

Visit FindHelp Florida, a website featuring free and reduced cost services to help individuals navigate life including medical care, food, job training and more, for additional resources. 

Find blood pressure information and resources on BayCare.org or consult your health care provider if you have concerns about your blood pressure. To request a physician referral, call 1-800-BayCare or find a doctor near you. 

BayCare is dedicated to giving all members of our community the tools necessary to achieve the best health possible. Your health is our number one priority. BayCare offers two health and wellness programs, Get Into Fitness Today (GIFT) and Diabetes Empowerment Education Program (DEEP). Learn more: Get Healthy

*There is considerable controversy about blood pressure ranges. You should speak with your physician about what your optimal blood pressure range should be.