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Children With Asthma Breathing Easier

Healthy Homes Project Improves Lives of Lowell Families

Healthy Homes Program’s asthma interventions dramatically improved the health and wellness of children in Lowell.

By Karen Angelo

Emergency room visits for more than 170 local children with asthma decreased by 81 percent within one year thanks to a program that helps families in Lowell reduce environmental risks in their homes that trigger asthma attacks. 

The UMass Lowell’s Healthy Homes Program team visited 160 Lowell homes with 237 asthmatic children. The project team assessed home risks, educated families and offered solutions. A year later, the researchers surveyed the parents of 172 of the children.

The results of the project, funded with a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, show a dramatic improvement in the health and well-being of asthmatic children in Lowell. Asthma attacks decreased by 76 percent, hospital emergency room visits decreased by 81 percent and the physical and emotional health of the children improved substantially.

Ways to Lower Asthma Risks
  • Allergy-proof bed and pillow covers
  • Exhaust vent repair or replacement
  • HEPA vacuum cleaner 
  • Pest control items (storage containers, baits, sticky traps) 
  • Seal entry points around pipes 
  • Carpet and mold removal

“This is an amazing success story,” says David Turcotte, research professor of economics and senior program manager of UMass Lowell’s Center for Family, Work and Community. “It illustrates the power of prevention on health and well-being. By educating families on the triggers of asthma, providing an intervention plan and purchasing products families can’t afford or have difficulty accessing, children are breathing easier.”

Environmental health workers assessed risks such as mold and pests, and tested dust samples in a lab to identify the presence of dust mites, cockroaches and mice, which can trigger attacks. Significant scientific evidence suggests that dust mites cannot only cause asthma attacks, but can also lead to the development of asthma. The research team developed an intervention plan that addressed risks in the home and provided products to the families, such as HEPA-filter vacuum cleaners, pillow covers and pest control items.

The research team gathered health outcomes a year after the intervention for the previous four-week timeframe, the same period used in the initial evaluation. Children showed a dramatic decrease in episodes of wheezing, asthma attacks, hospitalization and emergency and doctor visits. This translates into an estimated four-week health care cost savings of $71,164.

Other positive results included a reduction in the use of asthma medication. Physical health scores within one year increased by 35 percent and the emotional health of the children increased by 29 percent, according to the researchers’ findings. 

Training for Property Managers and Health Workers Sustains Program

To sustain the program, the project team also conducted training on healthy home practices with maintenance and facility managers of apartment buildings, housing inspectors, day care providers, first-time homebuyers and health professionals. The partners – Coalition for a Better Acre, Community Teamwork Inc., Lowell Community Health Center, Lowell Housing Authority and the Merrimack Valley Housing Partnership – covered integrated pest management practices, “green” cleaning and use of healthy products such as low-VOC paints and adhesives.

The research team was led by Turcotte; Prof. Susan Woskie of UMass Lowell’s Department of Work Environment; Prof. Stephanie Chalupka, formerly of UMass Lowell and now with Worcester State University; and community partners.