New Asthma Legislation Aims to Protect Students

Across Illinois more than 330,000 children have reported asthma; however, less than twenty-five percent of those children have their asthma under proper control. That means three out of four kids living with asthma are likely to experience symptoms of respiratory distress, leading to increased emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

New Asthma Legislation

A proposed law “Stock Asthma Rescue Medication in Schools” (SB3015) improves access to life-saving medication by allowing schools to stock undesignated asthma rescue medication and allowing school nurses and trained school staff to administer the medications at the first signs of respiratory distress.

“While current rules allowing students to self-carry and self-administer asthma medications are good first steps, those policies don’t help if a student faces barriers to obtaining medications or simply forgets his or her medication at home,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO of Respiratory Health Association. “Allowing schools to stock asthma rescue medication builds on and fills a gap in existing school policies to create a safer environment for all.”

The Burden of AsthmaYoung boy taking an inhaler with a spacer or holding chamber attached

Children from minority and low-income households are even more likely to face barriers in access to medication and other asthma management resources that can lead to poorly controlled asthma and avoidable emergency department visits. Indeed, emergency department visits for asthma in Illinois occur among African American children at nearly six times the rate of visits by White children.

Asthma causes an estimated 300,000 missed schools days per year in Illinois, which in turn leads to days of work missed by adult caregivers. Reliance on emergency care for asthma treatment also contributes to the growing economic burden of asthma in Illinois, which is expected to reach $1.9 billion by 2020.

“Administering asthma rescue medication has minimal side effects and this simple act has the potential not only to save lives but significantly reduce the economic burden of asthma in Illinois as well,” continued Africk.

How We Know This Legislation Works

Ten other states have adopted similar policies, including Indiana and Missouri. Early results indicate that these policies reduce the need for 911 calls and EMS transports as a result of asthma attacks. Initial data also demonstrate that these policies reach populations of need and improve health outcomes.

To ensure any potential stock asthma rescue medication in schools policy would be both evidence-based and informed by practical experience from the field, in the fall of 2017 we worked the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and Legal Council for Health Justice to form an advisory group of school and health experts to discuss the possibility of a similar policy in Illinois. This advisory group considered the policies adopted in other states and explored a variety of Illinois policy implementation considerations.

Our review of the ten existing stock asthma rescue medication state policies yielded important lessons for Illinois healthcare, public health and school stakeholders to consider moving forward. One key finding: in Illinois the existing Stock Undesignated Epinephrine Auto-injector policy provides a tested framework for implementation of Stock Asthma Rescue Medication in Schools.

Based on the research led by RHA and our partners, legislation to allow Stock Asthma Rescue Medication in Schools (SB3015) was introduced in the Illinois Senate by State Senator David Koehler.

SB 3015 passed Illinois Senate Education Committee by unanimous vote on April 17. A full senate vote will take place in the coming weeks. We recommend that upon passage of a stock asthma rescue medication policy, IDPH and ISBE convene an implementation workgroup that can work through the details of this life saving policy.

RHA stands ready to assist in this effort.

To learn more about the need and feasibility of stock asthma rescue mediation in Illinois schools, download the issue brief we produced with Legal Council for Health Justice.

The Night that Fuels Nicole’s Fight Against Asthma

Nicole Brown was at home when her one-year-old baby Nicholas began to cry. As hours passed and nothing soothed him, Nicole knew that it was time to call the doctor.

A team of two doctors and a nurse quickly realized that Nicholas was struggling to breathe. They began breathing treatments, checked his pulse, and recommended transferring him to a nearby hospital.

After a final breathing treatment, Nicole left for the hospital. “We just made it,” she describes. There, the doctors and nurses uncovered what Nicholas had been trying to tell them – his left lung had collapsed.

Doctors observed him around the clock, unsure what caused the collapse. The possibility of infectious disease meant Nicole wasn’t able to hug or physically comfort her son.

Woman holding baby in hospital with mask and gown on

Nicole holding Nicholas in the PICU

The PICU moved Nicholas to an isolated room to reduce the threat posed by possible infections. The doctors, nurses and Nicole all wore paper gowns and masks whenever they stepped inside.

With protective garments in place, Nicole was allowed to hold Nicholas again – but only while doctors worked to remove the mucus accumulating in his lungs. Nicholas tried to scream, but couldn’t due to his weak breath. Tears streamed down his face as Nicole held him.

“It was awful. I didn’t want him to hurt, but I knew that I needed to keep him still for the doctors to help him,” recalls Nicole.

Tests soon revealed that Nicholas was not infectious and had responded well to the breathing treatments and the suction from his lungs. The doctors were surprised by how quickly Nicholas’ condition improved and finally arrived at his true diagnosis – asthma, a chronic condition that would have to be managed for the rest of his life.

That was eight years ago. Today Nicole, an engineer at Exelon, is preparing to climb her fifth Hustle Up the Hancock and training five times a week. Her son’s asthma and mother’s COPD are at the forefront of her mind.

Boy smiling in a school photo

Nick in a recent school photo

“Nicholas’ asthma has definitely changed my perspective. I grew up with my parents smoking and I thought it was fine.  I also didn’t know that there are different inhalers– maintenance, preventative and rescue.” Nicholas now takes his maintenance inhaler twice a day. His rescue inhaler is there for him when he needs it.

Nicole hopes to have her son waiting for her at the top of the Hancock.

“I think about the people I’m doing it for, knowing that they can’t physically do what I’m doing. That helps push me more.”

Join us and support those affected by asthma and COPD. Donate to Nicole’s climb here.