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Childhood asthma seeing some improvement, Dallas County hospital says

Asthma is a big cause of school absences and can cause parents to miss work, too.
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Asthma is a big cause of school absences and can cause parents to miss work, too.

An effort to curb asthma among children in select zip codes in Dallas County has led to a drop in pediatric emergency department visits among some children.

Parkland Health, the county, community groups, and the data firm Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation (PCCI) have been operating a texting program to prompt parents into getting preventative health care for their child’s asthma.

From June 2020 to May 2022, there were 36% fewer emergency department visits for asthma among children in the program, compared to children with similar asthma risk whose families did not get the texts.

“Asthma is a lifelong disease,” Dr. Yolande Pengetnze of PCCI told KERA. “However, it is controllable. And once it’s controlled, you can lead a normal life without having to think about asthma.”

Before they enroll, the organizations running the program identify families with a potentially high risk for asthma symptoms. Other efforts included regular education for parents on asthma and some home visits.

Pengetnze said almost 5,000 children were assessed for asthma but about 2,500 families agreed to receive the text messages. She said obstacles to enrollment include phone numbers no longer in service and parents not wanting to participate.

In a presentation to Dallas County commissioners earlier this month, Parkland officials said that the enrollment number surpassed its goal. They also exceeded the goal for the number of pediatric patients from the target zip codes who got prescriptions for asthma therapy.

“There are a lot of children out there who don’t know that they have asthma,” Dr. Cesar Termulo of Parkland told commissioners. “If we can try to get to them and know where those children are at risk … we could try to focus our outreach efforts.”

A new agreement between Parkland and the Dallas Independent School District may bring in more families.

Parkland was significantly under its goal, however, for the percentage of children with asthma from the target areas who also received a flu vaccine.

Parkland wanted a 70% flu vaccination rate in 2021 for children with asthma in the target zip codes, but only achieved 40%.

In 2022, the health system’s goal was an 80% flu vaccination rate, but as of October, only 30% of the target population had received a shot.

“There’s increasing vaccine hesitancy and, basically, rejection,” Termulo said. “And that is going to be a national, uphill battle to try to work with.”

Termulo said Parkland is increasing its messaging around vaccines in social and mainstream media.

The target zip codes for the pediatric asthma outreach were 75210, 75211, 75215, 75216, 75217, and 75241. All are in the Southern or Western portions of Dallas County and underserved by health care, transportation, and other essential services.

“These are a few of the most socioeconomically deprived neighborhoods in the area,” Pengetnze said.

Termulo's presentation to commissioners was part of Parkland’s evaluation of the 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA). The CHNA is a report the hospital and county must do every three years to look at health disparities in the county and strategize ways to address them. Representatives from Parkland talked about diabetes, hypertension, behavioral health, and other priority areas.

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at bjaspers@kera.org. You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers.

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Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.