UMass Lowell researchers and community health workers have won a round in the fight against childhood asthma, thanks to a well-designed research and intervention project.
The Healthy Homes Program, funded with grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has test results from its first two years of working to identify and eliminate likely asthma triggers in the home.
The findings? The team’s efforts prompted significant drop in the number of times a child experienced wheezing, had an asthma attack or trouble breathing, or visited a doctor’s office or clinic for asthma problems.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the positive results and measurable improvements,” says David Turcotte, the research professor who directs the Healthy Homes Program. “In intervention research, you often have overestimating of the health problem as people pay closer attention, but these were significant changes.”
Turcotte attributes the project’s success to its intensive, multivisit approach. Two-person teams – a community outreach worker and UMass Lowell researcher – visited each household to explain the study and conduct an environmental assessment. The team then arranged for necessary interventions, from instituting pest management to arranging for repairs, industrial cleaning or installation of hardwood floors in place of carpeting.
Four or five home visits over a one-year period helped families maintain their efforts.
“In other studies, a typical home intervention effort for asthma is just providing mattress and pillow covers,” says Turcotte. “But, you can’t just fix the bed and get the job done.”
Education is also key to keeping project costs relatively low and sustaining environmental benefits, despite the intensity of intervention.
“Cities are adopting a ‘one-touch philosophy’ of trying to incorporate the various interventions together,” explains Turcotte. “So, an energy audit or a visit for lead removal, for example, will include a Healthy Homes evaluation. It’s combining health issues with the structural ones.”
To that end, more than 75 staff members of partner organizations have been trained on how to incorporate Healthy Homes knowledge and intervention during their own visits. In-home day care providers also received training. Partners include the Lowell Community Health Center, the Coalition for a Better Acre, Community Teamwork Inc., the Lowell Housing Authority and the Merrimack Valley Housing Partnership.
HUD has provided the project a new grant of $425,000. It is one of the first four projects in the country funded to work with the agency’s new Asthma Intervention Program in HUD-assisted housing. With continuing and new grant money, the project is working toward policy changes within housing projects.
“We aim to identify residential leaders who can interact with management and the residents in improving the environmental conditions,” Turcotte says.