Asthma is quietly the No. 1 reason kids are admitted to Dayton Children’s Hospital, and affects close to 2,000 Dayton Public Schools students (1 in 7), leading to significant absences and missed educational time.
Eleven Dayton community partners announced an effort to attack this $56 billion national issue Thursday, with the creation of the Dayton Asthma Alliance.
“Asthma is something I think we just don’t talk about, but when you look at the numbers, it’s this huge issue that impacts so many kids,” said Jessica Saunders, director of the Center for Child Health and Wellness at Dayton Children’s. “When kids can’t breathe — and that’s really what happens with asthma, you feel like you’re a fish out of water — it’s really difficult to go to school and learn.”
The new effort will have strong involvement from Children’s, DPS and Public Health, among others, with a major focus on finding and fixing asthma triggers at home and at school — things like mold, dust mites, tobacco smoke and certain cleaning supplies.
“The healthcare that we provide once a child is sick is a very small portion of a child’s overall health and wellbeing,” said Dayton Children’s CEO Deborah Feldman. “What happens in their home and in the schools and in the community bears a major impact.”
Dayton Children’s saw 14,191 asthma-related emergency room visits last fiscal year, or almost 40 per day. Saunders said in the new alliance, school nurses or the Pulmonary Clinic at Children’s can refer families to a community health worker through Wright State University.
“That health worker goes into the home with an air-quality specialist from Public Health and they can find those triggers,” Saunders said. “It could be as simple as changing the cleaning products a family is using, or more complicated, and need to involve a landlord for fixes on mold or moisture.”
She said Children’s is starting to see some early results where children who had repeat emergency room visits are having fewer asthma attacks.
Jeff Cooper, health commissioner for Dayton and Montgomery County, said despite the resources in place, too often there’s little improvement in health outcomes. He said Dayton’s collaboration — which includes CareSource, physician groups and public housing officials — should help.
“This is a better alignment of resources,” Cooper said. “It’s important that we have a system in place to correctly diagnose those children, link them to available resources so they can manage their asthma and look at those environmental triggers that may be causing or exacerbating their asthma.”
Dayton schools’ efforts
The city of Dayton and its schools are especially impacted, as asthma disproportionately affects both poorer and black populations, according to health officials. Cooper said roughly 1 in 5 Ohio children living in poverty has an asthma illness, and DPS Associate Superintendent Shelia Burton said asthma is the No. 1 cause of illness-related 911 calls from the schools.
Dayton Public Schools took the first steps of its own pilot program on asthma back in 2014, as the only Ohio school district selected to participate in an American Academy of Pediatrics project. DPS Director of Health Services Virginia Noe said this year’s five-school program will expand to the entire district in the fall.
“We have 25 full-time school nurses, so we’re capable of taking good care of children at school. A lot of parents don’t understand that,” Noe said. “Our school staff received extra training in the five pilot schools (Kiser, Kemp, Louise Troy, Wogaman and Dayton Boys Prep) to recognize breathing problems earlier and know how to respond in each case.”
Noe said in addition to being smoke-free, the district is moving to be fragrance-free, eliminating scented cleaning products and discouraging perfumes. She said DPS nurses are using their existing relationships with families to encourage the Asthma Alliance’s home visits, already visiting nine homes of Louise Troy students.
“Those who have participated are having fewer asthma flare-ups at school and reducing the number of visits to the health office,” she said.
Noe pointed to several goals — education outreach for more students, developing asthma management plans, training more school staff, plus tracking how many inhalers are available at each school and how many asthma action plans DPS receives from physicians.
“With better health outcomes, they’ll be in their seats more often, which means they’re learning more at school, which hopefully will translate into better academic success,” Noe said.