Schenectady County received $25,000 from a private foundation Wednesday to help control and reduce its high rate of asthma.
The grant from the New York State Health Foundation came just days after the state Comptroller’s Office released a report showing that Schenectady County has among the highest rates of asthma in the state, after the Bronx and Clinton, Fulton, Rensselaer and Montgomery counties. Specifically, 131.3 people have asthma per 1,000 people enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program.
More than 1,000 visits to Ellis Medicine’s emergency room each year are asthma-related and cost upward of $2 million, said County Public Health Director Joanne Cocozzoli at a Wednesday news conference.
“It was discovered that the residents in the city of Schenectady had higher rates of asthma compared to the county as a whole, and that hospitalization rates associated with pediatric asthma are higher than the New York state rate,” she said.
The grant from the Health Foundation will be used to fund a new program called the Schenectady Asthma Support Collaborative, a partnership among Ellis Medicine, Schenectady County Public Health Services and the Visiting Nurse Service of Schenectady & Saratoga Counties. These three organizations already work together on a similar program called Care Central that manages a population’s health by assigning patients a health navigator whose main goal is to make sure that person doesn’t end up back in the hospital.
The new collaborative would focus on asthma patients only. Care managers will be assigned to all patients who enter the Ellis Medicine emergency room with a diagnosis of asthma. They will coordinate to have a public health nurse visit the home and identify triggers for asthma, like mold, dust mites and second-hand smoke, and then get the patient enrolled in an asthma-education program to teach them techniques to better manage the condition.
“There was this study in Chicago that found these really high incidences of asthma in children and they went into the homes and found that the parents were smoking in the house and the kids were inhaling the second-hand smoke and getting asthma,” said Ellis Medicine President and CEO James Connolly. “Just by having those parents go outside and smoke, they immediately saw a decrease in the level of sickness and the number of missed days of school.”
It’s not uncommon to find high rates of asthma in cities whose housing stock is in poor condition, said Schenectady County Medical Director Dr. David Pratt.
Pratt helped write the application that won the county the asthma grant. Mold remediation and hazard mitigation programs in public and private housing have been shown to reduce rates of asthma, he said.
“There’s a list of triggers,” he said. “Smoking in the home, but also infestation, water intrusion, cockroaches and mites in furniture. We know that carpeting really is a bad thing in the home where there’s an asthmatic child. So there are a number of elements, mostly in the environment, that seem to increase this.”
Cocozzoli said just a basic education program can bring down the rates significantly. But the county is also prepared to help out where it can. One example would be by providing cleaning kits to families who need them, she said.
“Even changing the mattresses and putting mattress covers on can help,” she said. “Frequent vacuuming, mopping, cleaning.”
The county was one of 17 organizations to receive a grant Wednesday from the New York State Health Foundation, which awarded a total $500,000 to help 28 local county health departments across the state advance the goals of the state Health Department’s 2013-17 Prevention Agenda. The agenda is aimed at disease prevention and reducing health disparities. The county must raise matching funds from local investors to implement the program.
Asthma is just one of several top health concerns in the county. The Schenectady Coalition for a Healthy Community canvassed the city’s 10 neighborhoods last year and found high rates of smoking, diabetes, obesity, mental health and substance-abuse issues, adolescent pregnancy and inappropriate use of the hospital’s emergency department.
For information about the Schenectady Asthma Support Collaborative, residents should call 386-2824.