Multnomah County Health Department

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Multnomah County Health Department partners with organizations at the national, state and local levels to deliver a multi-component healthy homes program across Portland and Multnomah County, Oregon.


The Healthy Homes Program developed as a result of a community assessment which was guided by the efforts of a community-based environmental health coalition. The coalition was comprised of a network of 45 community-based organizations, local agencies and public officials and was instrumental in developing and implementing a community-based environmental health assessment to identify community environmental health concerns. The goals were to identify environmental health issues, prioritize issues, develop action plans and evaluate the progress to address selected issues. 


The assessment data and results became the impetus for developing the Healthy Homes Asthma program and focusing on improving indoor air quality and reducing asthma triggers in the homes of low income families with children with asthma. The Multnomah County Environmental Health Services (MCEHS) sponsored the Healthy Homes Coalition, which emerged from the Summit with a goal to address environmental factors that affect asthma and other health conditions by prioritizing substandard housing and housing codes.


The work of the coalition resulted in the successful submission of a grant to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Healthy Homes program in 2005. With HUD funding, MCEHS began delivering in-home nursing case management, environmental assessments, behavioral interventions and supplies to reduce asthma triggers for low-income families of children with asthma. In addition to direct care services, the program also focused on policy development, housing code enforcement, integration with clinical providers, and connections to remediation and community support resources.


MCEHS initially developed the Healthy Homes Program for low-income children with asthma who received primary care at county health department clinics. In 2009, MCEHS developed an Asthma Inspection and Referral (AIR) program, a one-time home inspection program for any child with asthma, regardless of income. AIR augmented the more in-depth Healthy Homes program, which targeted low income and less controlled children with asthma. Over time, the Healthy Homes Program broadened its services, developing the Community Asthma Inspection and Referral (CAIR) program funded by a HUD Demonstration Grant, to deliver home assessments to an even broader group of children with asthma and other environmentally related health conditions. Referrals to the Multnomah County Asthma programs now come from clinic providers and other community organizations throughout Multnomah County. Through a web based referral system the programs were able to accept referrals from community medical providers, community based organizations and other partners through-out the county. MCEHS and its growing group of partners continued to expand the services and reach of the Healthy Homes to include Healthy Homes, AIR, and CAIR. Working in collaboration with other community partners such as the City of Portland, they seek to address asthma at the individual, family, organizational, community and public policy levels to improve outcomes for all children in the county.


MCEHS' Healthy Homes program is available to low-income families and prioritizes children with uncontrolled asthma who have had recent ER visits, or who are prescribed inhaled corticosteroids. Healthy Homes positions a Community Health Nurse (CHN) as the child's case manager and a Community Health Worker (CHW) to help manage the home environment. Together, they conduct approximately seven home visits and provide ongoing telephone support. CHNs receive referrals, review cases and consult with providers. During home visits, CHNs focus on assessing asthma severity and control, reviewing medication, and developing individualized asthma care plans. CHWs work with families on environmental assessments and interventions. Both CHWs and CHNs link families to support resources; CHNs link to medical services and consult with the medical team and pharmacy, while CHWs connect families to remediation and other services.


Over approximately six months, Healthy Homes program CHWs provide customized assistance in implementing the Family Action Plan. Assistance consists of in-home and telephone support, education ,behavioral interventions, skill-building demonstrations and providing supplies, such as green cleaning kits, vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters, allergen-free bedding encasements, door mats, bed frames and linens. In addition, families may be given basic maintenance items such as batteries for smoke detectors, furnace filters or new smoke detectors. Client assistance items average $336 per family.


With the expansion of the initiative to add CAIR, providers and social service agencies began to use a Web-based system for referrals, charting, and reporting. In AIR an Environmental Health Specialist (EHS), performs a single environmental assessment. If appropriate, he might refer clients directly into Healthy Homes or CAIR. CAIR program staff included two CHWs who served as case managers. They conducted environmental assessments, basic interventions, addressed behaviors and make referrals. Physical and structural remediation concerns were referred to the EHS who was able to leverage services for home repair. Uncontrolled health issues were referred to the CAIR CHN.


The Healthy Homes program has collected outcomes data since 2005, and the CAIR program has collected data since its inception in 2010. Both Healthy Homes and CAIR programs tracked environmental assessment scores, asthma control test (ACT) scores and ER visits.


The Healthy Homes program has demonstrated a 2.5 times reduction in the use of ER and significant reduction in hospitalizations for children with asthma who have completed the program. In addition, the Healthy Homes intervention is associated with a statistically significant reduction in the number of environmental observations of asthma triggers in both Healthy Homes and CAIR. Finally, 75 percent of Healthy Homes' clients showed improved ACT scores over a six month period. Based on a 2008 evaluation conducted in partnership with Care Oregon, the managed care plan that served 99 percent of Healthy Homes' participants at the time of the evaluation, the program resulted in almost $350,000 in savings from avoided health care utilization (i.e., avoided hospitalizations and ED visits).


To sustain the program, MCEHS advocated for direct reimbursement from the State of Oregon. In 2010 MCEHS negotiated with Oregon Department of Medical Assistance Programs and Center for Medicaid Services, CMS to develop Healthy Homes targeted case management, allowing for Medicaid reimbursement. In addition, the Healthy Homes Coalition continues to seek to embed environmental solutions for asthma in the housing code, improve substandard housing and advocate for tenants.

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Tufts Medical Center

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Tufts Medical Center (Tufts MC) is a not-for-profit academic medical center that provides health care to patients both locally in the City of Boston, Massachusetts, and regionally in surrounding communities. For the past eight years, Tufts MC's Department of Community Health Improvement Programs (CHIP) has operated the Asthma Prevention and Management Initiative (APMI) to serve a primarily immigrant, non- or limited-English speaking and densely populated Chinatown community. APMI is the only local asthma management program that focuses on and prioritizes Asian speaking families and features program components in the hospital, schools and community.


Tufts Medical Center established the APMI in 2006, in partnership with Chinatown school principals. Asthma prevalence had increased from 15 to 20 percent at the local elementary school that year (compared to a 10 percent prevalence in Boston as a whole) and Tufts MC's bilingual pediatric providers saw a spike in asthma-related urgent care visits. In response, the CHIP team set out to inform the community in places where people live, work, and gather - at day cares, elementary and secondary schools and community agencies - and educate patients and families during home visits to children with poorly controlled asthma.


In 2006, CHIP secured a Health Disparities Grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation and used the funding to initiate and sustain APMI for three years. Additional grant support from a local community development fund, The Chinatown Trust Fund, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development through the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), facilitated APMI's expansion to include home visits and to serve more families over time. In partnership with local elementary and secondary school principals, school nurses, Tufts MC administrators and physician champions, the CHIP director established APMI and hired its first program manager in 2006 and a bilingual Community Health Worker (CHW) in 2011. Based on a detailed assessment, conducted with input from parents with limited English skills, teachers and clinical providers, APMI developed targeted solutions for Chinatown's asthma improvement needs.


APMI developed multilingual, multimedia asthma education and self-empowerment materials that are distributed in the clinic, at schools, during home visits and in the community. In partnership with the local schools, APMI created asthma education classes and an asthma education program for local day care and community center staff, and began the development of an asthma registry connected to Tufts MC's electronic medical record system. In addition, APMI convened care providers from across the pediatric continuum - emergency, inpatient and outpatient departments, as well as local schools - to develop standardized messaging, materials and procedures to ensure children with asthma and their families hear consistent asthma care messages everywhere they receive care.


APMI also promotes prevention of asthma and improved asthma management across local neighborhoods by providing all students diagnosed with asthma, whose parents consent to their involvement, with education programs at local elementary and middle schools. APMI promotes community awareness and management of asthma, particularly how to recognize environmental triggers, by educating local parents and day care, preschool and elementary school staff in Chinatown.


Children with poorly controlled asthma who are referred to the Asthma Prevention and Management Initiative by their primary care physicians or identified by APMI staff from data in the asthma registry, receive asthma action plans and tailored and culturally and linguistically competent environmental home visits and supplies, provided by the Boston Public Health Commission. APMI currently serves more than 100 families per year through the home visit program, which includes environmental assessments, medication review, review of asthma action plans and disease education for children and their families.


APMI's home visit program is part of the broader Boston Asthma Home Visit Collaborative (BAHVC). APMI draws on and contributes to the city-wide standardized approach to in-home asthma care. Where appropriate, APMI's Community Health Worker and other home visitors make referrals to Boston's Breathe Easy at Home program - an extension of the BAHVC - for housing inspection and advocacy on behalf of tenants, and refer patients to other services to reduce environmental and social stressors, as appropriate.


To complete the circle of care and ensure communication, home visitors fill out a Home Visit Progress Note and submit it to referring clinicians after each home visit. The note also is incorporated in Tufts Medical Center's ambulatory electronic medical record and listed as a patient encounter, thus enabling clinicians to review home visit findings and reinforce CHW and home visitor interventions with patients during clinical visits. As part of the BAHVC program, APMI home visitors also share de-identified home visit information with the BPHC.


APMI tracks its progress and impact in the schools, clinic and community. After four years of delivering asthma education in schools, absences for students with asthma decreased by one day, while absences for the general elementary student population decreased by only 0.2 days. Efforts to improve clinician adherence to National Institutes of Health EPR-3 Guidelines for Asthma Care also showed impressive results. Chart review data indicate that 35 percent more children, with two or more asthma-related urgent care visits within an eight-week period, now receive appropriate controller medication prescriptions than before the clinical quality improvement effort began. For children with poorly controlled asthma, APMI can demonstrate statistically significant improvements in the home environment (i.e. reduction in the presence of triggers) and asthma outcomes (i.e. improved ACT scores, decreased hospital admissions and increased use of asthma action plans) from the first to the follow-up visit, which occurs six months later.


A partnership with BPHC's Asthma program since its inception has aided APMI's sustainability. With BPHC's encouragement and the Department of Housing and Urban Development award, APMI was able to initiate its home visiting program, which Tufts MC continues to fund. APMI also is active in advocacy efforts in Massachusetts, supporting reimbursement for asthma education and home visits by third-party payers. APMI has strong data to support this case; Outcomes data from 2009-2013 show that receiving home visits decreased urgent care visits by 21 percent and inpatient admissions by six percent, saving the health care system nearly $50,000 in avoided costs.

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From left to right: May Chin RN, Program Manager, Asthma Prevention and Management Initiative Sherry Dong, Director, Community Health Improvement Programs, Lynne Karlson MD, Division Chief, General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Sue Chin Ponte,RN NP, Director, Asian Clinical Services, Zifeng (Maple) Zou, Community Health Worker, Asthma Prevention and Management Initiative

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Peach State Health Plan

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Peach State Health Plan in Atlanta, Georgia, is a statewide Medicaid managed care organization that delivers a customized asthma program for teenagers. The Plan is part of the Centene Corporation, an integrated health enterprise that delivers Medicaid services in 19 states. Peach State Health Plan has a targeted asthma improvement program focused on their teen members with asthma because almost 20 percent of teens in the Plan have an asthma diagnosis (13,159 members with asthma out of 66,138 members ages 13–19.) Peach State's innovative program has successfully engaged teens with asthma—a notoriously hard group to engage—and has demonstrated success in improving teens' ability to understand their asthma, improve their asthma, and address the environmental and social factors that can make asthma worse.


Peach State's Asthma Team seeks to reduce teens' asthma healthcare utilization, improve their asthma status (i.e., functional severity), ensure appropriate medication regimens per NIH EPR-3 Asthma Program Guidelines and promote self-management. They pursue these goals by facilitating relationships between teens, caregivers, primary care physicians and medical homes, providing access to specialists, delivering tailored education and addressing social issues, such as environmental exposures at home and school.


The Plan delivers stratified asthma management services, including health coaches and environmental, medical and social interventions in clinic, at home and at school. The Asthma Team includes health plan case managers, medical directors, pharmacists, a disease manager/ health coach and respiratory health coaches, who serve as the primary contact for teens, their families, the care team and partners.


Teens with an asthma diagnosis in the Plan's information system are stratified into three intervention groups—low, moderate and high risk—based on a multi-stage and validated initial health assessment. Sixty percent (60%) are in the low-risk intervention group and receive education materials by mail. The moderate group receives telephonic and mail outreach and can receive home visits if appropriate. The high-risk group, which includes about 700 members per year, receives telephonic and mail outreach and in-home visits. Peach State uses an innovative and award-winning incentive program, CentAccount, to motivate teens (and others) to take preventive care actions. For example, when a healthy activity, such as a preventive well visit, is completed, members receive money on a debit card they can use to purchase healthy items. This has encouraged teens with asthma to get well visits, thus helping to identify previously undiagnosed teens with asthma. In fact, teenage members in the asthma program have increased their attendance at regular wellness visits by more than 500% compared to a control group. This increased and proactive interaction with primary care providers at scheduled visits has helped teens with asthma to stay healthy and to stay ahead of their asthma rather than having them interact with their providers only after a serious asthma attack.


All teen members in Peach State's asthma program receive award winning, age-appropriate educational materials, including the multilingual and multimedia, "Off the Chain—It's All About Asthma" and "On Target with Your Asthma." These materials promote understanding of asthma, environmental triggers and appropriate medication use. Members in the low-risk group receive education by mail and can also receive peak flow meters, spacers, and masks as indicated.


Members in the moderate-risk group receive mailed education materials and telephonic counseling by health coaches to identify medical, environmental and social needs and to provide asthma education and self-management support. During calls, coaches collect self-reported asthma symptom data, review individualized treatment plans and self-management guides, and discuss environmental triggers; they also teach teens signs and symptoms that merit rapid intervention. The health coaches communicate back to the medical home and cooperating community organizations, such as schools and churches.


High-risk members receive everything the moderate group receives—education, barrier assessment, coordination of care and additional support—and in-home visits by a licensed Respiratory Care Practitioner. Home visits include disease education, medication counseling and an environmental assessment, which, according to Peach State, occurs in "the ideal setting to… assess all of the factors that impact the severity of the patient's condition…and [to facilitate] patient specific education." During visits, health coaches conduct spirometry screening and pulse oximetry, measure vital signs, review medications, demonstrate how to use spacers and peak flow meters, and discuss barriers to effective asthma control. During home visits, teens also receive counseling from a respiratory therapist about environmental factors in the home environment and their impact on asthma to take advantage of the 'teachable moment' that a home visit provides. The home visit team also identifies environmental factors in the home that may be contributing to the members' asthma and reviews in detail the teen-focused asthma education materials that address allergens and irritants.


In addition to the tailored interventions stratified by risk, Peach State's Asthma Team also bolsters clinical providers' abilities to care for teen asthma patients. The Asthma Team functions as an extension of the physician's practice by reinforcing the individual asthma management plan and providing up-to-the minute documentation on functional status, barriers and recommendations for future treatment based on the assessment.


Using clinical and financial data (i.e., medical and pharmacy claims), the Plan was able to model the health improvements and cost savings generated by the teen-focused asthma program. Compared to a control group, teens in the program had nine percent fewer respiratory-related unplanned healthcare utilization incidences and a shorter average length of stay when unplanned hospitalizations did occur. They were more likely to visit their primary care physicians as planned and to receive recommended flu vaccines, a critical self-management step as people with asthma are at increased risk of severe disease and complications from the flu because influenza can cause further inflammation of the airways and lungs. Peak flow meter use and controller medication use both improved at higher rates for program participants compared to a control group, while rescue inhaler use declined, indicating better overall asthma medication management and compliance. Peach State estimates the program saves approximately $320 per member per month. Recognizing the importance of environmental management of asthma, particularly for its Medicaid population, and the impact on the quality of care and patient outcomes that their program is achieving, Peach State Health Plan, Centene and Nurtur intend to continue funding the asthma disease management program.


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Melveta Hill-Sims, Dean Greeson, MD, Robyn Lorys, Cindy Hodnett, Virginia Bartlett, Sandra Vermillion, Stephanie Spencer, Heather Dowdy, Bruce Walters

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