Celebrating Asthma Awareness Month and Environmental Education: EPA Region 7’s Partnership with Children’s Mercy Hospital

Introduction by Kathleen Fenton

There’s just something special about working with people who are very passionate about what they do. I feel that way every time my work brings me into contact with the top-notch medical professionals at Children’s Mercy Hospital (CMH) in Kansas City. Their vision is “Be a national and international leader recognized for advancing pediatric health and delivering optimal health outcomes through innovation and a high-value, integrated system of care.” It’s a big vision that CMH delivers on a daily basis.

It’s a good thing they are here because our children need them. Nearly seven million children in the U.S. have asthma, according to the American Lung Association. CMH works tirelessly with families and children who are suffering from a myriad of medical issues, including those caused by the environment, like asthma, pesticide and lead poisoning, and exposures to chemicals. They identify problems and find solutions to help sick children, worried parents, schools with environmental concerns, and communities at risk. CHM strives to find the right solutions for frequently unique challenges.

May is Asthma Awareness Month. Children’s Mercy Hospital and EPA are partners in a collective effort to help reduce asthma attacks and deaths and instruct others on how to prevent asthma attacks for the long term. Read on to understand how Dr. Jennifer Lowry and her team of professionals work closely together, as one of EPA’s many partners and grantees, to address environmental health concerns and protect human health.

By Jennifer Lowry, MD

Jennifer Lowry, MDThe Center for Environmental Health (CEH) at Children’s Mercy houses multiple entities focused on improving the environmental health in the Heartland and across the country. Specifically, the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) serves Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska) by providing education, consultation, and referrals for children with environmental exposures. Additionally, the CEH, led by Director Kevin Kennedy, has been successful in delivering Healthy Homes and Healthy Schools training throughout the region andPEHSU nationally. Through two current grant initiatives, EPA Region 7 has partnered with Children’s Mercy to expand these activities into education of health care professionals (Environmental Education to Healthcare Initiative – EEHI) and offer additional healthy school training courses in all areas of Region 7.

By incorporating Healthy Homes training with the PEHSU program, the EEHI can be replicable to each of EPA’s 10 Regions and standardized across the U.S., using the PEHSU network.

The EEHI has broadened the knowledge base of students in health care and will better prepare them for their future careers. In addition, it has offered resources for students, residents, and practicing health care providers (physicians, nurses, and ancillary staff) to use when an environmental concern for a patient arises in their practice. These didactics include a 1-hour “Lunch and Learn” targeted to working health care professionals and a 2-hour presentation for health care students (such as nursing and medical students). Each of the didactics uses case study presentations from the PEHSU and offers tools for each provider to use when health care decisions (diagnosis and treatment) need to be made regarding environmental exposures. By using case-based learning, each student and practitioner can acquire useable knowledge about environmental exposures that sometimes lead to adverse health outcomes.

Now in its second year of funding, more than 700 health care students and 275 health care professionals have been educated to advocate for home-based environmental changes that can improve children’s health. In addition to continuing didactic learning in schools and offices, an e-learning platform is being developed to enhance the scope of delivery. By delivering an integrated PEHSU and Healthy Homes/Healthy Schools curriculum regionally (and ultimately, nationally), the EEHI curriculum can become a standard framework to educate health care students and practitioners about environmental health.

This increased knowledge will advance and strengthen the field of pediatrics and lead to better health for children in our homes, schools, and communities.

In addition to homes, children spend a large portion of their time in schools. In fact, surveys show that children can spend 70-90 percent of their time indoors with much of their time within schools. As school environments play an important role in the health and academic success of children, unhealthy school environments can affect children’s health, attendance, concentration, and performance, as well as lead to expensive, time-consuming cleanup and remediation activities.

To that end, staff at Children’s Mercy Hospital will work in conjunction with EPA staff to publicize and present up to 10 Healthy School Specialist Training courses throughout our four-state region and provide at least two training courses near Region 7 tribal communities. The courses are planned to be offered during the next two fiscal years.

Topics of discussion at these interactive, hands-on sessions will include: ventilation, chemical use in schools, integrated pest management, school safety issues, and best practice guidelines on how to plan, implement, and create a Healthy Schools management plan – one that includes the goal of building a teamwork structure at each school site.

For additional information about the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU), please call 1-800-421-9916 (toll-free) or visit www.childrensmercy.org/mapehsu.

For additional information about all of the CMH Environmental Health Training Courses, please contact Erica Forrest, education and training coordinator, at 816-960-8919 or visit www.childrensmercy.org/ceh.

To learn more, see EPA’s Environmental Education page and information on how to ensure a Healthy School through our online Healthy Schools Toolkit. Also, if you are interested in having your school assessed or an EPA expert providing a Healthy Schools presentation, please contact Kathleen Fenton at 913-551-7874 or fenton.kathleen@epa.gov.


Kathleen Fenton serves as the Environmental Education Program Coordinator in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs in Lenexa, Kan. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education grants, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

Jennifer Lowry, MD, is the Medical Director of the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, among several other prestigious titles. She served on EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee from 2012 to 2014.

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