Attendees talk care, education

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In the shadow of the deaths of 10 children because of asthma, and possibly more, doctors, nurses and educators gathered Thursday to plot a way to get children and parents more education and more access to care.

Augusta allergist Terrence Cook, who serves as the chairman of the Richmond County Board of Health, put the range at seven to 13 child deaths because of asthma in the Augusta area in the past 17 months. The Augusta Chronicle wrote about seven deaths last month and since then, Dr. Cook said he had uncovered three more in the past six months: one each at University and Doctors hospitals and one at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center.

"That is a staggering death rate," he said.

The problem is asthma is often not listed as the primary cause on the death certificate, making it almost impossible to catch every death, said East Central Health District Director Ketty Gonzalez. Georgia reported 10 child deaths because of asthma in 2006, and four of those were in Richmond County, she said.

Finding out why and preventing more is what prompted more than 50 people to pack a training room at the health department for a daylong discussion and strategy session.

Part of it could be the Medicaid-managed care system, which does not allow an emergency room doctor, for instance, to make referrals to a specialist who could better manage a child's asthma, Dr. Cook said. Many of those children could probably be better cared for under the Children's Medical Services program, but the providers and the parents don't know to apply for it. Under that program, for instance, the parents could directly access specialists, Dr. Gonzalez said. Children with asthma in that program had much lower rates of emergency room visits and hospitalizations, she said.

The asthma summit split into four working groups to look at education, access to care, better use of case managers and the creation of a health care outreach worker. The idea is based on one that is already finding success in an Atlanta-based asthma program.

The health district will hold another asthma summit for parents on May 6 and one for the business community later that month before the asthma working group gets together again in June to look at where the plan stands.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

FOR PARENTS

The East Central Health District will hold an asthma summit for parents and the community on May 6 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Richmond County Health Department, 950 Laney-Walker Blvd. For more information, call (706) 729-2055.

The CSRA Asthma Coalition will meet at 8:30 a.m. April 16 at the Richmond County Board of Education, 864 Broad St. For more information, call (706) 721-3554.

SCHOOL BUS ASTHMA LINK?

Are diesel fumes from idling school buses creating poor air quality at Richmond County schools? That is what a proposed Medical College of Georgia study aims to find out.

MCG researchers would take air samples before and after idling buses sit in front of five schools to see if it is creating poor quality air that could exacerbate breathing problems, said Carol Rountree, director of guidance, testing and research for the school system.

"We know that some of those pollutants are really triggers for children" to have attacks, Dr. Rountree said. The study still has to be approved by the Richmond County Board of Education, she said.

It would be funded by a $6,000 grant from the East Central Health District, said MCG Registered Respiratory Therapist Kitty Hernlen.


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