Asthma Disparities: Making an Impact in Chicago’s Public Housing

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By Melissa Gutierrez Kapheim

It’s Asthma Awareness Month! For hundreds of asthma community programs across the country, raising asthma awareness is a year-round reality as we work to improve the lives of people living with asthma every day.

As a 2010 winner of EPA’s National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management, my organization, Sinai Urban Health Institute (SUHI), is always excited to partner with EPA. We strive to share successful strategies that will help programs across the nation deliver environmental asthma management as part of their asthma care services to underserved communities.

Later this month, on May 16th, I will co-present an EPA webinar with Andy Teitelman from the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) on our collaboration efforts for a program called Helping Children Breathe and Thrive in Chicago Public Housing (HCBT).

With funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, SUHI partners with the CHA to implement HCBT in a community where asthma affects 25–30 percent of children, a rate twice the national average. Through community engagement and partnerships, we provide asthma education, assistance navigating the healthcare system, and environmental home assessments.

HCBT uses a Community Health Worker (CHW) model to deliver its services. We hire and train people who live in the same building to educate residents about asthma management. This approach is effective in accelerating honest communications in which people with asthma and their families feel comfortable discussing their home environment.

The visits include a home assessment to identify asthma triggers. HCBT refers triggers to CHA’s case management service, which works with property management to resolve the issue. This referral system was developed so participants can report their housing concerns to CHWs, who shepherd them through the process of getting the problem fixed.  As a result, a variety of housing issues that exacerbate asthma, such as mold, roaches, carpet, and mice, are referred to property management. To date, 80 percent of those referrals have been resolved.

Through our partnerships with CHA and residents of the housing developments, we have achieved results indicative of improved asthma symptoms and control. Specifically, preliminary six-month outcomes of the HCBT program indicate a 56 percent reduction in asthma symptoms, significant reductions in health resource utilization, and statistically significant and clinically associated improvements in quality of life. The project is slated to end in the fall of 2013.

Please join us for our webinar on May 16th. For more information and to register, visit

About the author: Melissa Gutierrez Kapheim, MS, is an epidemiologist at the Sinai Urban Health Institute (SUHI) in Chicago, IL. She has worked in the field of health disparities and community-based health interventions for more than eight years. Since joining SUHI in 2006, she has worked on three consecutive asthma interventions that utilize the community health worker model to improve the health and well-being of children and adults with asthma living in Chicago’s most vulnerable communities.

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