Children's Asthma Program


The Southern Illinois University School of Medicine (SIU SOM) Children’s Asthma Program will create a community coalition to identify children at greatest risk for severe illness and school absenteeism from pediatric asthma and provide a medicine and home based trigger reduction strategy to improve their health outcomes.


Asthma is a critical problem in central Illinois. Sangamon County, the home of SIU SOM, is the eighth worst county for asthma hospitalization rates in Illinois. This problem is only magnified when examining our most vulnerable children. The poorest zip code in Sangamon County averages nearly 15 times as many emergency room visits for children with uncontrolled asthma than the wealthiest one. Forty children in this area had ten or more ER visits in the last year, and 100 had five or more visits. Poorly controlled asthma leads to school absenteeism, poor academic performance, and missed work for parents. For hourly workers, this time off work can be catastrophic, leading to missed rent or car payments or even job loss for repeated days off work. Children’s asthma becomes more than a health issue, as its lack of control has disastrous effects on the livelihood of families. Community health and educational interventions need to be implemented to help reduce these high uncontrolled asthma rates.

Asthma control involves a complex mix of medical and socio-economic factors. Medication use is important, but allergies and environmental factors are the agents that often trigger attacks. This places a responsibility on parents to remove children from these triggers. However, for our most vulnerable families, this is an impossible task. Renters are often unable to remove mold from the home without a landlord’s intervention. Apartment dwellers often suffer if other people in the building smoke, even if nobody in their unit uses tobacco. While strong, home based interventions exist in major cities such as Chicago, there is very little information about effective interventions in small towns and rural areas.

SIU SOM has a strong and capable team helping to address issues of pediatric asthma in central Illinois led by Sameer Vohra, MD, JD, MA and Carolyn Pointer, JD.

  1. Carolyn Pointer, JD, Assistant Professor of Medical Humanities and Lead Researcher of SIU-SOM Medical-Legal Partnership.
  2. Sameer Vohra, MD, JD, MA – Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Program Chair of the Children and Families Population Health and Policy Program.
  3. Andre Neal – Community Health Organizer, Springfield Community Federation
  4. Kim Luz, MS, CHES – Director of Community Outreach, HSHS Central Illinois Division
  5. Caress Dean, PhD, MPH – Chronic Disease Population Health Researcher at SIU SOM Center for Clinical Research.
  6. Val Rodgers, RN, MSN PELCSN – Health Services Coordinator, Springfield 186 School District
  7. Janet Albers, MD – Chair of Family and Community Medicine at SIU School of Medicine
  8. David Steward, MD, MPH – Associate Dean of Community Health and Service


Strategic Priorities

The Children’s Asthma Program will address five strategic priorities each with its own implementation plan. Our work is community-based with our programs built by those that live in these communities. Our goal is that the work will be replicable to our service region of central and southern Illinois.

  1. Data Acquisition and Analytics – Collecting and analyzing information from patients, parents, medical providers, school providers, and pharmacists to better understand the scope of the asthma problem and the barriers to good asthma control.
  2. Reduction of Home Triggers – Design and evaluate different interventions to help reduce home and environmental triggers for children with asthma that lead to uncontrolled asthma attacks.
  3. Provide Continuity of Care with Medical Providers – Collaborate with our hospitals and physician groups to ensure that each child with uncontrolled asthma has a primary care doctor and lung doctor that takes care of his or her medical needs.
  4. Ensure Appropriate Medical Coverage for Asthma Needs – Work with insurance companies, hospitals, and clinics to make both medical and home based asthma care part of the routine medical visit.
  5. Policy and Regulation Change – Collaborate with state health departments and legislators to ensure that the citizens of central and southern Illinois are protected by laws that mitigate mold, ensure appropriate services, and create a culture of health in central and southern Illinois.


Philanthropic Need

The Children’s Asthma Program has a bold agenda that aims to stop the debilitating effects of uncontrolled asthma by ensuring that these vulnerable children have a safe home environment. This requires a stream of funding to collect appropriate information, hire and train a strong team, provide the initial services needed for these families, and designing technology that would allow us to rapidly improve our families’ environment. Donations could have an immediate impact in the following areas:

  1. Training of Community Health Workers - Asthma cannot be contained unless our group knows and understands the triggers that are affecting our communities. This requires training a core group of community health workers who understand how to evaluate and improve residences and that families feel comfortable inviting into their homes.
  2. Asthma Trigger Mitigation Tool Kits – Certain products such as HEPA-filtered vacuums, mattress covers, or even simple cleaning supplies could have a great impact on controlling asthma triggers in vulnerable homes.
  3. Environmental Assessment Application – Our team has designed the outline of a smart phone application that could replicate the home visit in real time and provide our team with access to critical information.
  4. Assembling a Care Coordination and Research Team – To ensure success, we will need administrators, care coordination nurses, and research staff that coordinate our projects and allow us to achieve the breakthrough outcomes that can be modeled across central and southern Illinois.


Summary of Philanthropic Impact

Controlling children’s asthma has incredible potential beyond improving a child’s health. It improves a child’s chance to succeed in school, their parents’ chance to succeed at work, and reduces health care costs for society. The SIU SOM Children’s Asthma Program and its subsequent research and findings has the chance to change the trajectory of vulnerable children and families in central and southern Illinois.