Asthma grant helps Lynn school nurses clear the air

From left, Deb Tanzer, Lynn Public Schools nursing program specialist; Jen Spina, asthma resource nurse; and Kathy McNulty, nurses director.

By Paul Halloran

Lynn Public Schools students are breathing easier thanks to a state grant designed to address asthma and other health issues.

The city is in the third year of a $6 million award from the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund. The fund was established by the Legislature in 2012 to assist Bay State communities reduce healthcare costs by preventing chronic conditions.

Lynn is one of only nine communities and organizations statewide to receive the money, which provides funding to help mitigate chronic diseases, reduce pediatric asthma, hypertension, tobacco and falls among the elderly.

Funds directed at pediatric asthma is having a significant impact in Lynn’s schools, according to nurses Jen Spina, Kathy McNulty and Deb Tanzer.

About 2,000 of the approximately 15,000 students in Lynn Public Schools suffer from asthma. Of that number, 60 percent are considered high risk, according to Spina, the asthma

resource nurse for the district.

“We have been focusing on the students who have high-risk asthma,” Spina said. “We introduced interventions at the school level last year. The goal is to increase the number of schools implementing strategies to address pediatric asthma.”

The nurses said helping students better deal with learning to manage their asthma also reduces absenteeism and increases their productivity in school, with fewer trips to the nurse’s office and doctor.

Part of the grant was used to provide training for six school nurses to be certified as asthma nurses who received advanced training for caring for patients with pediatric asthma. They have been meeting for a year and will be resources for other school nurses.

Lynn’s students with asthma have an asthma action plan, devised by their pediatrician and implemented by the nurses.

“It connects us with the doctor to make sure we’re on the same page,” McNulty said.

Lynn Public Schools is partnering with the Lynn Community Health Center, Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development (LHAND) and the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless Room to Breathe program on the asthma initiative.

Room to Breathe piece is especially important, as home visits are conducted by community health workers who identify environmental triggers that exacerbate asthmatic conditions. Families are provided mattress covers, air filters, vacuums and environmentally friendly cleaners.

“We work with parents to remove as many triggers as possible,” said Robin Frost, executive director of the Mass Coalition for the Homeless. “By working with Lynn Public Schools, we have

been able to reach more families. They are fantastic partners.”

Similar steps are being taken in the schools. Green cleaning products are used in the 26 school buildings, and environmental triggers for asthma, such as smells from certain hand lotions and markers, are identified and eliminated to whatever degree possible.

There will be an increased emphasis on education and awareness this school year, as each school will receive a large poster defining asthma, a book identifying asthma triggers and tips on reducing exposure to those triggers in the classroom, and a bucket with environmentally-friendly classroom and cleaning supplies.

“Thanks to this grant and the hard work of our nurses, we have made great strides in being able to better serve students with an asthma diagnosis,” said Superintendent Catherine Latham. “We are grateful for the funding we have received and the collaboration with our community partners.”

Mary Ann O’Connor, director of the Public Health Department, said the grant is also being used effectively in the other covered areas. The city is working with Greater Lynn Senior Services to address hypertension and falls among the elderly. LHAND has a no-smoking policy in all of its residences, and grant money has been used to offer smoking-cessation programs.

“The grant has allowed us to address important issues and create some jobs,” she said.

O’Connor said the goal of the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund grant is to improve the connection between clinical settings and community programming, combining public health and health care strategies. The intended result is improved overall health in Lynn, a decrease in chronic illnesses and health care costs.

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