Community Health Workers Key to Chicago Asthma Intervention Success: Issues at the State and Community Levels

By Krisberg, Kim | The Nation's Health, August 2013 | Go to article overview

Community Health Workers Key to Chicago Asthma Intervention Success: Issues at the State and Community Levels


Krisberg, Kim, The Nation's Health


WHEN COMMUNITY health worker Kim Artis heard about a new effort to help Chicago public housing residents living with asthma, she jumped at the chance to take part.

"I wanted to be part of something that would empower the community, educate them and eventually bring them better health," Artis said. "I have asthma, I have family members who have asthma and you're always wondering what you can do to be better. I've been able to not only empower myself, but to educate those close to me."

Artis was referring to Helping Children Breathe and Thrive in Chicago Public Housing, a partnership between Sinai Urban Health Institute and the Chicago Housing Authority that uses community health workers to reduce the effects of asthma and help residents better manage their health. The program, which ran from 2011 to 2013 with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was offered in six Chicago public housing developments and resulted in a variety of positive health outcomes, from decreased asthma symptoms to improved housing conditions. Asthma rates among public housing residents are often higher than the general population.

The program was not the first asthma intervention for Sinai Urban Health Institute, but it was the first time it partnered with the city housing authority, said APHA member Melissa Gutierrez Kapheim, MS, who directed the asthma intervention and is an epidemiologist at the institute. At the heart of the program was not only a strong partnership with housing officials, but a commitment to recruiting community health workers who lived in housing authority communities.

Community health workers received 75 hours of training on all aspects of asthma and were randomly shadowed throughout the program. To find residents living with asthma, they worked closely with the housing authority's case management program and interacted with residents at food pantry events, back-to-school events and health fairs. Eventually, the program enrolled 73 adults and 85 children.

"Because I'm from the community, they were willing to listen to me," said Artis, who worked with about 100 of the participants, many of whom lived in the same public housing development that Artis lives in.

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