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Donaghue Foundation grant breathes life
into new asthma program
May 11, 1998

A $2.1 million, four-year grant to the Health Center from the Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation will help thousands of Hartford children with asthma breathe a little easier.

Asthma is the most common, chronic condition among Hartford children - and experts say it is on the rise. It is one of the leading causes of hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and missed school days.

The grant, which will support a comprehensive program to improve the diagnosis and management of asthma among children in Hartford, was the focus of a breakfast meeting with community leaders May 4, hosted by The Hartford Courant.

"As a research university, we represent one of the state's primary assets in addressing problems that affect the health and safety of the people of Connecticut," said President Philip E. Austin. "Here in Hartford, the incidence of childhood asthma represents a problem of deep concern to all of us. I am delighted that, with the support of the Donaghue Foundation and others, Dr. Michelle Cloutier and her colleagues are helping to bring the University's resources to bear in meeting this critical need."

Leslie Cutler, D.D.S., Health Center chancellor, said "The Health Center is very concerned about, and committed to, the greater Hartford area. We want to use the Health Center's resources to help build healthier communities in the Hartford area and across Connecticut." He said the Health Center is already providing Hartford families with dental care, screenings and treatments for osteoporosis and more.

Michelle Cloutier, M.D., a pediatric pulmonary specialist, is the lead researcher for the program, called Easy Breathing. Cloutier is a professor of pediatrics at the UConn School of Medicine and chief of the Pediatric Pulmonary Division based at Connecticut Children's Medical Center. She will be assisted in the research by Charles B. Hall, assistant professor of statistics at UConn.

"Because of the Donaghue Foundation, we will be able to start a far-reaching system of care to identify children with asthma, and effectively manage their condition," Cloutier said. Families and schools, she added, will also play critical roles in the success of this plan.

"This is one of the first efforts to coordinate public and private-sector programs to prevent and treat a chronic health problem at the community level," said Howard Bailit, D.M.D., Ph.D., director of health policy and primary care research at the Health Center. Bailit's research center will oversee the asthma project. "We see this project as a national model," he said.

Ray Andrews, trustee of the Donaghue Foundation, said, "This project, which features Easy Breathing and also contains the framework for additional, practical studies in community health problems, is the result of many months of work by a number of groups in response to a Foundation invitation to mount a collaborative effort for community benefit."

Easy Breathing is open to all children in Hartford who are enrolled in Medicaid and receive care in one of the participating sites.

The key goals for the program are:

  • to improve the diagnosis of asthma by utilizing a "linguistically and educationally appropriate" questionnaire to be completed by parents and guardians.

  • to improve the determination of asthma severity and to initiate effective medical therapies. Each child with asthma will receive a written action plan. Children who are hospitalized for asthma will be assigned to a counselor who will provide additional teaching and re-enforcement in the home.

  • to connect families with medical providers at any time of day through an Asthma Hotline. Nurses staffing the hotline will be assisted by a computer registry of all children in the project.

Cloutier said she hopes the program will reduce inappropriate use of hospital emergency departments for asthma-related problems; and decrease direct and indirect costs for asthma car.

"The ultimate goal of this project is to improve the health status of Hartford children. In this process, we will refine ways to diagnose and treat this condition; reduce health care costs; and gain new insights into the triggers and causes of asthma," she said.

Since 1991, the Donaghue Foundation has sought innovative ways to honor the wishes of the late Ethel F. Donaghue. One of Connecticut's first women lawyers, she created - in memory of her parents - a charitable trust of more than $50 million, to seek "medical knowledge of practical benefit to human life."

Other organizations supporting the Easy Breathing project include: Connecticut Children's Medical Center; St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center; Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield; HealthRight; M.D. Health Plan; Community Health Network; Astra Pharmaceutical Co; Glaxo Wellcome; The Hispanic Health Council; the Urban League; the American Lung Association of Connecticut; as well as the City of Hartford Health Department, and its clinics.

Maureen McGuire

Maureen McGuire works in the Office of Communications at the Health Center.