For generations, people in the proud, tight-knit German community of New Ulm, Minn., have put their minds and hearts into everything they’ve done. Their steadfast dedication is a matter of both personal honor and civic pride that’s intrinsic to the community’s rich heritage.

Since 2009, they’ve been focusing this strong work ethic on helping to reduce heart attacks in their community with an initiative called Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project.

“There is a connectedness in rural communities,” explains New Ulm Medical Center President Toby Freier. “People know each other and work together and it creates an environment where population health can succeed.”

The award-winning Heart of New Ulm Project is a 10-year partnership between New Ulm Medical Center, which is part of Allina Health, the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation and the entire community. Through activities, education, policies and environmental changes, people are encouraged to get more physically active, eat more fruits and vegetables, lose weight and make other positive choices to reduce their heart attack risk.

Besides the support they give to each other, community members find support from all sectors of the community.

Worksites have embraced worksite wellness programs and created policies around healthier vending options and going tobacco-free. Grocery stores now feature healthier salads in their delis. Independently owned restaurants offer healthier options, too, and now sell as many salads as french fries. Memberships at the local Park and Recreation Center increased from 1,500 to 5,000 since the project started. School events have offered healthier concession choices, and there’s even a new community garden and a new food co-op, too.

“What we’ve witnessed in New Ulm is truly a transformation in the culture,” says Rebecca Lindberg, director of population health for the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation. “You see positive changes everywhere you go.”

New Ulm Medical Center staff have also conducted free heart health screenings for thousands of community adults over the years to help everyone understand their risk for heart attack and stroke. The screenings help the healthcare team identify those people who are at highest risk for heart attack and provide them with additional resources and support to make healthful lifestyle changes.

Community leaders are now diligently working to ensure they can sustain the work of the project long into the future — and continue not only to improve patient outcomes but to also strengthen the bonds of their community.

Lindberg says that from the start, the Heart of New Ulm Project was designed to be a demonstration project that could hopefully be replicated in other communities. “The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation is taking the lessons we’ve learned from more than six years of experience working with New Ulm Medical Center to successfully reduce heart attacks and risk factors in New Ulm and now helping other communities do the same.”

For more information about the Heart of New Ulm Project, visit