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Asthma program helps Richmond families, earns EPA recognition

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Mike Flynn, acting deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency presents the UCAN team with the award.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU with the 2017 National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management. During Asthma Awareness Month each May, the EPA honors local asthma management programs for their exemplary role in improving the lives of people with asthma, particularly those in underserved communities.

Since 2005, the EPA has recognized 41 health plans, health care providers and communities in action. Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU was one of three winners this year, and the only one in the health care provider category.

Asthma affects more than six million children throughout the country. CHoR earned this award for its novel You Can Control Asthma Now (UCAN) program, which provides coordinated care to the disproportionately high number of children suffering from asthma in the Richmond community.

“When kids come to us with poorly managed asthma, they’re often missing school and unable to play with friends,” said Michael Schechter, M.D., chief of pulmonary medicine and director of the UCAN community asthma program at CHoR. “To treat asthma properly takes a team effort. The physician makes the diagnosis and prescribes treatment, the nurse makes sure the family understands the disease and the social worker helps to overcome barriers to getting children the care they need. Home visitors help point out environmental triggers and how to avoid them. We all depend on the child and the family to learn how to best manage their asthma, use the skills they learn and call for more help when they need it.”

Zorater Miles with grandchildren Christian, center, and Iyanna, right, speaks with Kathleen Bowden, MSW, social worker for the UCAN community asthma program. <br>Photo by Kate Marino
Zorater Miles with grandchildren Christian, center, and Iyanna, right, speaks with Kathleen Bowden, MSW, social worker for the UCAN community asthma program.
Photo by Kate Marino

UCAN offers medical care and education to help children and families understand asthma, identify triggers, look at environmental factors that affect health and learn how to use medications to help manage asthma.

“The UCAN team is treating my kids, but they’re also teaching me how to help manage the condition,” said Zorater Miles, whose grandchildren — 9-year-old Iyanna and 3-year-old Christian — suffer from asthma. “I really see a big change in my grandchildren and it’s such a relief.”

Missing school used to be a weekly occurrence for Iyanna. Now, she is spending more time in school and less time in the hospital. She has only missed three days this academic year.

“It’s great to receive this national recognition, but it’s even better to see improvements in the children’s quality of life and a decrease in asthma-related hospitalizations and ER visits,” Schechter said.

Mike Flynn, acting deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency presents the UCAN team with the award.
Mike Flynn, acting deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency presents the UCAN team with the award.

Families in the UCAN program see consistent providers, receive frequent follow-up and have phone access to knowledgeable professionals. They also receive assistance with coordination of scheduling and transportation, as well as follow-up on social issues, including home visits, referrals, food and housing needs, mental health and advocacy.

“Our team’s vision for UCAN, which has become a reality, was to provide comprehensive care and education in one convenient place, making it easier for families to manage this chronic health condition while also keeping up with the day-to-day activities that go along with raising children,” said Jeniece Roane, interim vice president of children’s services at CHoR. “I’m exceedingly proud of our team and their dedication to advancing children’s health. This award is national validation of their hard work and passion for improving the lives of all children.”

The program was developed through grant funding from Children’s Hospital Foundation and has helped patients, as well as the general public, through educational PSA-style advertising. The UCAN campaign includes radio, online and local bus advertising, in both English and Spanish. The goal is to reach children and families in targeted urban communities that have high rates of poorly controlled asthma and reinforce the message that asthma is controllable and children with the condition can live active and healthy lives.

For more information about the EPA’s National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management, visit www.epa.gov/asthma.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 225 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Seventy-nine of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. The VCU Health brand represents the health sciences schools of VCU, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center and Level I trauma center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.