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Home Intervention Stops Severe Asthma Attacks

Melissa saved for years to purchase her modest row home in North Philadelphia, three and a half years ago. A single mom, Melissa worked hard to maintain her home and care for her children, including a teen daughter with severe asthma. Several months ago, things started to fall apart. A faulty pipe in the basement leaked so heavily that Melissa had to shut off the water leading to the kitchen sink; her family washed dishes in a bucket filled in her second floor bathtub. The leak caused mold and damage to the walls in the basement, allowing pests to infest her home. Meanwhile, a pipe in the bathroom leaked and caused mold and moisture to build up inside the wall next to her daughter’s bedroom. Draughty windows and poor insulation caused Melissa’s utility bills to climb.

These conditions exacerbated her daughter’s asthma and threatened her entire family’s health. Her daughter experienced severe asthma symptoms every day and with worsening symptoms at night when she was spending time in her bedroom. After a trip to the Emergency Department at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children following an acute asthma attack, Melissa’s family was referred to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) Healthy Homes Healthy Kids (HHHK) Program in collaboration with GHHI Philadelphia.

In Melissa’s home, HHHK partnered with the Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development’s Basic Systems Repair program to address plumbing leaks, as well as some faulty electrical wiring that was discovered during a comprehensive environmental assessment and home inspection. The program also engaged the Philadelphia Gas Works rate payer-funded weatherization program to insulate Melissa’s basement, repair or replace some of her windows and air seal her home. HHHK collaborated with pest management professionals at the Department of Health Vector Control Unit to tackle the pest infestation using Integrated Pest Management techniques. Lastly, HHHK used HUD Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes and City funds to replace faulty rain gutters (which could continue to cause moisture problems), repair water damage and remediate mold hazards in the basement and the asthmatic child’s bedroom from previous plumbing leaks. HHHK staff worked with Melissa to reduce use of chemicals and VOCs that could trigger her daughter’s asthma, and designed a personalized Environmental Action Plan to help her maintain the repairs to her home over time.

“The program really helped us,” Melissa said. “They helped us fix our home and make it healthier and safer for my daughter and my whole family.” Her daughter is experiencing less frequent and less severe asthma symptoms. She is using her asthma rescue medication less often for acute asthma episodes, and has not been hospitalized or back to the Emergency Department for her asthma since the housing interventions were completed. Melissa also reports that her utility bills have decreased.

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