The FACT campaign will launch this spring, bringing education, motivation, and hope to families and their children who have asthma.

It is a fact. Millions of children in the United States have bronchial asthma and about 90% also have allergies that can trigger an attack. Sanford Miller, chief executive officer of Allergy Control Products Inc, Ridgefield, Conn, is doing something about it.

Miller’s company is set to launch the Fight Asthma in Children Together (FACT) campaign this spring. The program is designed to educate patients, their families, and the general public about strategies for helping keep asthmatic children allergy-free. “In a public health sense, [the campaign’s goal] is to raise the level of awareness of this problem, particularly in the [immigrant and low-income] segment of the population, and to get products and some help into this segment,” Miller says. “It’s very obvious that the allergy problem is getting worse. It seems intuitively obvious to me that there’s a large neglected population who has this problem and either they don’t have access to the proper medical care or, if they get medical care, they don’t have money and/or access to products that could help them.”

The campaign has another goal that is less about education and more about business. Miller hopes to inspire larger companies—his has less than 50 employees—to take part in the campaign. “Because we’re in the health care business, I think it gives us a bit of corporate responsibility,” he says. “Very often, drug companies, HMOs, and various people in this business are roundly criticized because they make a lot of money and they don’t tell anybody what they’re doing, or, in fact, they aren’t doing anything,” he says. “I feel that, within our limitations as a small company, we have a responsibility in our industry to do something to address the issue of this large segment of the population that is not being dealt with.”

The motivation for the FACT campaign is not totally altruistic. “From a selfish point of view, this is another educational process,” Miller says. “The more people we educate about this problem and the more people we educate about the solutions for this problem, the better off we are as a business.”

The campaign was originally scheduled to launch on September 12, 2001, in Washington, DC, but world events forced its postponement. The campaign will officially launch on March 27-28 in the District of Columbia. Unofficially, the campaign already has been quietly implemented at Mary’s Center for Maternal and Child Care, Washington, DC, a nonprofit women’s and family medical center serving the capital district’s Latino community.

Implementing the Program
Thus far, Miller has provided allergen-resistant casings for bedding gratis to the Mary’s Center asthma patients. When the campaign launches, Olympic Gold medalist Tom Malchow, an asthmatic, will be on hand to meet with local children, answer questions, and detail his own fight against the condition. As the campaign progresses, Miller will continue to supply Mary’s Center with bedding and may open a store on-site to sell some products to the low-income patients at discounted prices. He will also supply Spanish-language videos and other educational materials. “The onus is on us to prove that we’re serious about it,” Singer says. “After the press conference in March, we’re not going to disappear and we’re going to keep working on this. I think that’s a big portion of our responsibility.”

It may not take much to prove the worth of the FACT campaign to the 89 staff and 4,000 patients at Mary’s Center. Asthma care is one of its core pediatric programs. “Sanford is giving us the opportunity to give his products free to our patients and I think that’s a great opportunity,” says Kenneth Laorden, clinical services director at Mary’s Center. “I think the program is going to grow and become even more beneficial for our patients. For us, [asthma is] an important issue because these kids can end up in the hospital and have serious problems if they’re not treated quickly and if they’re not educated on when to use their medications.”

Mary’s Center was founded in 1988 to serve the health needs of immigrant Latino women. Today it acts like a large doctor’s office offering primary, sick, and maternal care to women and their families. The nonprofit center is funded through donations, contracts and grants, and patients who pay on a sliding scale. “Pretty much everybody pays, but no one will be denied if they can’t pay,” Laorden says. “We try to put a price on our services so [the patients] value them. We do qualify people on-site for Medicaid and other government programs,” he says.

Delivering Care
Even before Miller’s program, the center followed the standard of care for treating its 100 pediatric asthmatics, educating children and parents about the steps needed to avoid an asthma attack and the consequent trip to the emergency department (ED).

The FACT campaign dovetails with how the center delivers its care. “Our physicians take a lot of time with asthmatics to make sure they don’t end up in the ED, back on our doorstep the next day, and/or confused,” Laorden says. “I would say our patients are pretty well managed. They aren’t admitted to the ED very often, they know when to use their medication, and know which medications are used for what. We allot time for our physicians to take [up to] 45 minutes with our patients [to educate them]. That’s where we differ from other places. For example, a sick patient might come in and we’ll have a 15-minute slot, but we know that person needs 45 minutes, so we’ll schedule him for a longer slot. We have a case management department (also serving as social service case management), which helps with the educational component. Our medical assistants are well trained on how to use the devices [such as] nebulizers. It takes time and is really just a matter of sitting down with patients and their families. Handing them a brochure and sending them on their way is not going to do it. It’s about asking them to come in, changing behavior, and being responsive to their questions when they call. For us to sit down with an asthmatic who has a question and the session lasts for 45 minutes is a lot better than seeing that patient five times in the following 2 weeks. We don’t let them go until all their questions are completely answered because, otherwise, we know they’re going to end up coming back to us.” In addition, local pharmacists also help by translating medication and nebulizer instructions into Spanish.

The immigrant Latino culture, with its strong sense of family, helps the message hit home. “Our parents are very caring, and usually our Latino population grasps whatever our physician says,” Laorden says. “They put the physician up on a pedestal, so anytime a physician says to do something, they deem it very important.”

The FACT campaign’s emphasis on children is a key to reaching a wider population, Miller says. “The focus is children, but you obviously sweep in their parents,” he says.

Reaching Out
Mary’s Center was reaching out to both before the campaign. It involves the entire family in asthma care, addressing issues such as pest control to minimize allergens in the home. “It’s a family problem…they really need to change everything,” Laorden says. “Asthma can be a life-changing problem, but hopefully we can make it so it isn’t one, with all the options available to us.”

For now, Mary’s Center will be the only health organization taking part in the FACT campaign. Miller says this is by design. “The idea for us to start this campaign [was not to] try to implement it in 40 places and spread it too thin,” he says. “[Our idea was to] pick one place, do it, try to get some other people involved along the way, and refine it as we go along. My own view is that we have to make this work in Washington, pay attention to it, see where we can go with this thing, and then decide what to do next.”

Following the introduction of the FACT program at the Mary’s Center, Miller hopes to get other businesses involved—currently he is in preliminary talks to bring another company into the program—and begin the program either at another Washington-area clinic or at a clinic in another urban center.

For Mary’s Center, the FACT campaign is an adjunct to what it is already doing. “I see [FACT] just strengthening our program,” Laorden says. “It’s [a matter of] educating the parents—once they know that something causes a problem, they want to fix it.”

Chris Wolski is associate editor of RT Magazine.