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IMPACT Partnership Program Empowers Parents of Children with Asthma

AmeriHealth District of Columbia, Children’s National Medical Center and Breathe DC partner to fight childhood asthma

12/11/2013, 2 p.m.
Nothing is scarier for parents than seeing their children clutching their chests in a struggle to breathe. But a group ...
Asthma can be controlled by taking medicine as your doctor prescribes.

Nothing is scarier for parents than seeing their children clutching their chests in a struggle to breathe. To hear them coughing early in the morning. And late at night. To watch their eyes widen in fright as they fight for air. It’s heartbreaking to see a child so scared. But a group of doctors and insurers have come together to help reduce the amount of times kids have to go through this by expanding the IMPACT DC program.

One out of every 12 children in the district suffers from asthma. It is a common disease of the lungs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the district has one of the highest rates of kids with this illness. Many of the children who have severe attacks come from low-income neighborhoods. And there are few doctors who specialize in asthma based in these areas. So, it becomes a problem of access and education. These facts are part of the reason Stephen Teach, an emergency room (ER) doctor, founded IMPACT DC in 2001.

Teaching families

The heart of the IMPACT DC program is its asthma clinic. The clinic sees children who have recently been in the hospital for asthma. The clinic also sees those who generally have trouble with their illness and miss a lot of school days. Asthma attacks usually increase during the fall and winter. They can also be triggered by cold air, flu season and allergens. But asthma can be controlled by taking medicine and avoiding these triggers.

AmeriHealth District of Columbia (DC) has recently joined with IMPACT DC to further assist in the care of Medicaid patients. And Breathe DC, a nonprofit organization, will also lend its support by making home visits. The three groups aim to reduce the need for ER visits by teaching families how to control asthma.

“We’ve had patients who have brought their children to ERs more than once because they couldn’t figure out why the child kept having asthma attacks,” says Mark Fracasso, M.D., medical director for AmeriHealth DC. As part of the program, educators ask parents if their home contains asthma triggers, such as mold, dust, mice or pet dander. “One child kept having attacks because his father kept a lawn-mower in their living room. They lived in a rough neighborhood,” Fracasso explains. “The father felt he had to do that to keep the mower from getting stolen. But he didn’t realize that it was causing his son’s sickness.”

Most asthma-related visits to the ER are preventable. That’s why IMPACT DC invites parents to the clinic within 2 weeks of a trip to the ER with their children. They have a detailed meeting with doctors, nurses and educators. The goal is to explain what asthma means, what triggers it and what it does to the body. Children are shown how to properly use their medication, and are taught to notice when it is time to get more. IMPACT DC focusses on individual support. The visits are not rushed. A unique plan is developed for each family.