In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the coast line of the Gulf of Mexico, and storm surges as high as 14 feet helped destroy the levee system protecting New Orleans, flooding as much as 80 percent of this city of 455,000 residents. Childhood asthma had long been the subject of medical research. The confusion and chaos that prevailed in the storm's wake offered a unique opportunity to study the many variables affecting the severity of childhood asthma and the effectiveness of various strategies for helping families manage childhood asthma. The City of New Orleans Department of Health and Tulane University Health Sciences Center collaborated to support the Head-off Environmental Asthma in Louisiana (HEAL) project. In part, the initiative sought to determine whether asthma morbidity in children could be decreased by implementing an adapted and enhanced (for post disaster) asthma counselor intervention that included case management and guidance for addressing environmental factors such as mold and allergens. The research was supported by public sector and private sector partners including federal and local government agencies and private foundations.

The HEAL project recruited Ellie Thornton, as research co-investigator to assist with the design and implementation of a one year program of asthma counseling intervention for 182 children between the ages between 4 and 12 years old with physician-diagnosed moderate-to-severe asthma. Researchers met with families and asthmatic children for a minimum of 2 asthma counseling sessions, including at least one home visit, to assess environmental risk factors for asthma. These factors were abundant in the hot summer of Katrina, especially for residents living in the city's poorest and hardest-hit neighborhoods, with the least access to specialized healthcare. Through counseling tailored to the specific needs of the family, the asthma counselors were able to intervene and address many of the post Katrina risk factors for asthma morbidity. These factors include the presence of mold and other indoor allergens, access to healthcare and medicines, and health insurance coverage. Socioeconomic factors, such as the quality of housing, income levels, access to schools and social services, and even psychological factors such as stress or depression. In the process, Visionary Consulting helped design a training program to lay the foundation for a growing community of Certified Asthma Educators.

To learn more about how Visionary specializes in assessing and implementing outreach programs for chronic disease management for hard to reach populations, read more about the HEAL project:

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