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For Release:
September 30, 2005

Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D.
Commissioner

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Commissioner Challenges Community Health Centers to Join Him in Effort Reduce Incidence and Impact of Asthma on New Jersey


 

Department of Health and Senior Services Commissioner Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D., challenged New Jersey's 21 Centers for Primary Health Care to join him in reducing asthma disparities that negatively impact the health and economic security of many New Jersey families and communities. Commissioner Jacobs issued his challenge at today's Commissioner's Asthma Summit in Princeton, the culminating event of his month-long Healthy Communities for a Healthy New Jersey to reduce health disparities in New Jersey.

"As a chest physician I have seen asthma ravage not only the person suffering from the disease but their families and communities," said Dr. Jacobs. "In New Jersey, this suffering is borne disproportionately in our lower-income, urban and minority communities and the fact is that with simple education and proper care we can and will change that."

Approximately 455,000 adults in New Jersey have been diagnosed at one time in their life with asthma. Nine and a half percent of adults with incomes of $25,000 or less have asthma, compared to less than six and a half percent of adults with higher incomes. African Americans of all ages are more than three times as likely as whites to be hospitalized for asthma, while Hispanics are twice as likely.

However, with appropriate therapies and self-care, long term control of persistent asthma can be achieved. Educating health care professionals and asthma sufferers about the appropriate therapies results in decreased hospitalizations and decreases the impact of the disease on individuals, families and communities.

The New Jersey Asthma Collaborative is a cooperative program conducted with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resources Administration (HRSA), the NJ DHSS and Centers for Primary Health Care to improve the care provided to people with asthma. It focuses on specific measures based on clinical guidelines and the experience of the Plainfield Health Center, which has been piloting the program for the last year.

New Jersey's Centers for Primary Health Care treat approximately 10,000 patients diagnosed with asthma, with 57.3 percent under the age of 20. Twenty percent of all asthma patients are uninsured, and 88 percent live at or below the national standard of poverty. In addition, 86 percent of those treated for asthma are African American or Hispanic, a dramatic health disparity.

"For lower-income and uninsured families, the disruption of a hospital stay of even one day by either a parent or child due to asthma can mean the loss of a job, income or savings they need just to get by," said Dr. Jacobs. "This collaborative effort to improve asthma care will help these families maintain jobs and stay in school as they work to move up the economic ladder."

Commissioner Jacobs came to the DHSS last year with the goal of having a Commissioner's Asthma Summit as a primary tool in reducing the incidence and impact of asthma in New Jersey. Experts and health care professionals from throughout New Jersey and the United States joined the commissioner in the daylong conference to improve strategies for addressing asthma care throughout the state.

"This Summit brings together state and national leaders in asthma care with New Jersey's front line health care professionals to improve the effectiveness of asthma care in our state," said Commissioner Jacobs. "We must do something to reduce the disparities poor, minority and multicultural communities in New Jersey face from asthma, and the participants in this Summit are the people who can do it."

Conference participants will explore the nature and extent of asthma disparities and promising approaches to reducing these disparities. Participants will increase their knowledge and understanding of asthma care "best practices" and learn models for care that incorporate these best practices combined with cultural competency. When they return to their clinics, schools and medical facilities they will have developed a network of medical professionals and resources to aid in implementing what they've learned.

Staff from Centers participating in the Collaborative will attend seminars and educational programs lead by national asthma experts via the Internet, teleconferences and in face-to-face meetings.

The Collaborative's goals include:

Increasing the percentage of patients with current asthma severity assessments to 90 percent or better;

Increasing the percentage of patients with persistent asthma who properly use inhaled anti-inflammatory medication to 95 percent or better;

Increasing the average number of symptom-free days for asthma patients to 10 days every two weeks.

Reaching these measures would significantly improve the quality of life for thousands of low-income and uninsured asthma suffers in New Jersey. For instance, it is estimated that only 30 percent of asthma patients at these health centers are properly using their anti-inflammatory medication. An increase to 95 percent would potentially help more than 6,000 people reduce the likelihood of lost work and school time or even hospitalization.

Asthma is a serious chronic disease of the lungs that is caused by inflammation in the airways that afflicts people of all ages and backgrounds. Asthma attacks are often triggered by environmental factors such as cigarette smoke, pollution or dust and can result in significant restrictions of activity, hospitalization or even death. Other triggers include weather changes, exercise, pet dander and allergens.

While there is no cure for asthma, it can be prevented and controlled with proper care. People with asthma can live normal, active lives. Most illnesses and death resulting from asthma can be prevented if the disease is managed according to established guidelines.

More information on asthma and asthma care in New Jersey is available at www.state.nj.us/health/fhs/asthma.shtml.

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