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Monthly Health Topics

Mobile Pediatric Asthma Unit Helps Patients in Queens

By Susan Beane, M.D., Vice President and Medical Director, Healthfirst
Asthma is one of the leading serious illnesses among children and accounts for 13 million absences from school each year. About 6.8 million children under the age of 18 in the U.S. have asthma, and in 2008 alone 11 percent of children in New York State had asthma.
In light of these facts, I think it’s important to share the amazing work of my friend and colleague Hadi M. Jabbar, M.D., pediatric pulmonologist at the New York Hospital Queens and director of the Pediatric Asthma Center. He and his team set up the Mobile Pediatric Asthma Unit, a 40-foot van, in 1997 to teach and treat children with asthma in underserved communities. I thought it would be helpful for Dr. Jabbar to provide information on this wonderful program that he has spearheaded.
Susan Beane, M.D.: What are the goals of the Mobile Pediatric Asthma Unit?
Hadi M. Jabbar, M.D.: The mobile program is the outreach arm of my program based out of New York Hospital Queens. With the mobile unit, we can take my comprehensive program to areas with difficult health access. Most of these communities happen to be underserved for various reasons, so the principal goal of the asthma program is to go into these areas and service them. We also want to improve education and perception of asthma and show how easy it is to treat.
Dr. Beane: Tell us about the history of the Mobile Pediatric Asthma Unit.
Dr. Jabbar: Two years after our launch, we started seeing patients on the van in Jackson Heights, Queens. We used to have the van parked there every Saturday, and we examined and treated patients and, more importantly, gave them follow-up appointments. Not only did we take care of their asthma, we took care of their insurance issues and helped them get insurance through the state. We did that for a year and a half.
After 9/11, one of the hotels near JFK airport was converted into a homeless shelter by the Bloomberg Administration, and that shelter housed about 400 families. In that shelter the rate of asthma was really high—ambulances were streaming in and out of the shelter. On the Queens Borough President’s instructions—then Helen Marshall—we took the van to the shelter and set up an asthma program for two and a half years, until the shelter closed down. The end result of the program was an 85 percent decrease in EMS calls and a 55 percent decrease in schoolchild absences.
Dr. Beane: What is the Mobile Pediatric Asthma Unit doing now?
Dr. Jabbar: Recently, we received a one-year grant to put up an asthma program in the biggest housing project in the United States, the Riis Settlement. Since January the van has been there two days a week, from 10am to 4pm, to service the housing project. On board the van are a physician, a respiratory therapist, a social worker, and a medical assistant.
The Riis Settlement is in Long Island City, which falls into Asthma Alley. Asthma Alley, as defined in New York City, encompasses low-income, underserved communities in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.
Dr. Beane: So patients can be treated for their symptoms at the Mobile Unit?
Dr. Jabbar: They can drop by if they want to be educated about asthma. If they want us to treat them, then a whole history is taken, and we get all the necessary tests done—we have a lung function machine on board. And we start them on a treatment regimen, and we follow through. We accept patients up to 21 years of age.
Dr. Beane: What other programs are you working on?
Dr. Jabbar: One of the things we’re about to set up is a resource center for asthma which is going to get referrals from all over. We’ll be setting up something home-based—going into people’s homes to see what we can do to educate them and doing environmental analysis to see what the problems are at home. The resource center will be available to everybody in certain areas of Queens where they can call so we can send our team.
Dr. Beane: Any final thoughts you’d like to share with us?
Dr. Jabbar: Asthma is an enormous problem in this country. I really believe the van going out into communities allows the people to believe that we care for them in their communities, which is a big difference than taking a bus or train ride to my program.
Dr. Beane is Vice President and Medical Director at Healthfirst. For more tips on leading a healthier lifestyle, visit the Healthfirst website at www.healthfirst.org

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