Asthma is a common chronic disease in children that has no cure. Currently approved asthma therapies help manage the disease’s symptoms so that patients can live comfortably. The disease affects a very higher percentage of low-income and urban minority children, and as a result is one of the most frequent reasons for children to miss school, which can negatively impact their academic achievements and later professional success.
Results from an initial pilot study studying the effects of asthma on school absentee rates in children highlighted a novel program called “Building Bridges for Asthma Care” in which school nurses help to identify children suffering with the disease so they and their families can receive support and care. The program is the result of a collaboration between Colorado Children’s Hospital, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, the public school systems in Hartford, CT and Denver, CO, and GSK. The study associated with the program followed 2,244 urban children from 3 schools in Hartford: 40 percent were African American, 53 percent Hispanic, and 7 percent were from other minority backgrounds.
The study’s results were recently presented at the ATS 2015 International Conference.
“Because children spend much of their time in school, a school nurse is ideally positioned to help. Through the program, school nurses work with children identified with asthma and their families, as well as their primary care providers to address asthma so the child does not miss as much school,” explained Jessica Hollenbach, the study lead author, who is also the Director of Asthma Programs from Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford.
The program included 5 Denver, Colorado elementary schools and 3 in Hartford during the 2013-14 school year. School nurses identified, screened and then enrolled these children, having inadequately managed asthma in the program. Their asthma was monitored, the children where taught how to use rescue inhalers, and school nurses served as a connection between physicians, caregivers and parents to help raise awareness and support for these children’s asthma treatment plans.
Data on children missing school was collected for the 2012-13 to 2013-14 school years and researchers found that it decreased almost 12 percent. For children with asthma that were not part of this program, absenteeism increased by almost 9 percent.
“Although we currently only have data from one of the two school districts, this study demonstrates that we can make a difference and help more children with asthma manage their disease and stay in school. This is positive news for everyone involved—children benefit, but also their parents, who do not need to miss work to stay home with their child. The healthcare system benefits too, since their asthma is better managed, and therefore they require fewer health services, such as emergency care or hospitalization,” noted Hollenbach.