With 316,200 Arizonans diagnosed with asthma this year, and children accounting for 50 percent of all asthma-related hospital discharges, the need for quality asthma care in Phoenix is growing. That need in central Phoenix – where air quality is often worse and patients have little or no health insurance – is even more acute.
Since 2000, the Phoenix Children's Hospital Breathmobile, a self-contained mobile asthma clinic, has traveled to inner-city schools, providing asthma identification, teaching, treatment, and follow up. And it's making an impact on the quality of life for these children.
Reyes Reyna, a nine-year-old patient of the Breathmobile, says of his asthma, "I used to be really scared, but now I'm much more comfortable." His mother, Sara, says that Reyes "isn't sick as much anymore" and that she values the service because Reyes is not insured and she can call over the phone anytime and get advice on caring for her son.
Since the inception of the Breathmobile, there has been a greater than 40 percent drop in missed school days due to asthma related problems, a greater than 70 percent drop in emergency room visits due to asthma, and a greater than 73 percent drop in asthma related hospital stays among Breathmobile patients.
"We are breaking down the barriers of access to healthcare for pediatric asthma patients," says Judy Harris, PNP, director of the Breathmobile program.
Ramon Saenz, father of Betzaida and Perla, first brought his daughters to the Breathmobile three years ago and discovered they both had asthma. The girls have been receiving treatment ever since. Perla, eight years old, says that the Breathmobile staff "is good at treating us" and that she feels "better in the head" than she used to. Ramon expresses his gratitude for the program simply by saying, "It's our only choice."
The Breathmobile visits 19 schools in South Phoenix, where children are more likely to be uninsured. The service requires no referral and there is no charge for treatment. Once diagnosed, the children receive an asthma action plan that includes education for asthma self-management, follow up appointments and evaluations, as well as a 24-hour phone number in case questions arise.
"Our biggest impact had been on the quality of life for children with asthma and their families," Harris says.
The high number of pollution advisory days in recent months has made the Breathmobile's work even more vital. "This has been our worst year for asthma patients," says Harris. "Children who play outside during high traffic hours develop late phase asthma responses to the pollution."
The Breathmobile staff, large enough to see 70 patients a week, includes a pediatric nurse practitioner, a registered nurse, a respiratory therapist, and an operations coordinator. Together, under the medical direction of Peggy Radford, MD, they work to bring quality treatment to children who are struggling with asthma.
The Breathmobile specialists are able to treat patients and educate parents for no charge. Funded by sponsorship from such companies as Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck Pharmaceuticals, and the Arizona Department of Health Services, the Breathmobile is not tied to any insurance provider.
"It is nice to be able to give these kids the medical attention they need without being restricted by insurance company limits," says Harris.