Allercy and Asthma Health
The Official Publication of AAN - MA

Main Medical Center Offers Asthma Self-Management Education

The AH! Asthma Health Program at Maine Medical Center in Portland is a referral-based program for both inpatients and outpatients that has received Asthma Self Management Education (ASME) certification from the American Association for Respiratory Care. One-on-one patient/family education and provider and clinician education combine with community awareness efforts to create a comprehensive initiative that serves some 400 patients a year, many from indigent patient clinics where 99% of the patients are on Medicaid or receiving free care.

 “It is so important to raise awareness of asthma in our community, particularly among the 10% of our population who have asthma,” says Rhonda Vosmus, RRT-NPS, AE-C, a Registered Respiratory Therapist and the program’s asthma education specialist. Noting Portland has been called “the tail pipe of the jet stream” for the emissions it receives from factories in New York, New Jersey, and the Midwest, she says it is essential to “make the public aware of the role adherence, environmental modifications, and asthma self-management training can play in improving one’s quality of life.” The fact that 18% of the population smokes adds to this need.

One way Vosmus’s program accomplishes its awareness goals is through a partnership with the American Lung Association (ALA) of Maine that’s designed to promote cleaner air both in the state and nationally. “I am on the leadership board and have done some advocacy work in Washington, DC, surrounding the Clean Air Act and the effects of poor air quality on the lives of those with asthma and lung diseases in general,” says the RT. The group also sponsors public service announcements on the value of annual check-ups for asthma, asthma self-management plans, and the annual flu vaccine.

This year, AH! Asthma and the Maine ALA are teaming up with the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Lung Association of New England, and Vosmus’ own health organization, MaineHealth, to move their agenda even further; and when it comes to government advocacy, they’ve found there’s nothing like a personal patient story to sell the message. For that they’ve turned to the family of a 12-year-old asthma patient who has taken part in the AH! Asthma program. “Jake Conley was referred to our program initially from an asthma specialist,” explains Vosmus. “He and his family have since become spokespeople for our work in the AH! Program and have traveled with us to DC to speak on behalf of many Americans with asthma.”

Bringing the patient/family voice to Capitol Hill can go a long way toward convincing legislators to join patients, families, and health care professionals on the asthma team, says Vosmus. “When people hear Jake and his family speak, they pay attention to what life is like for someone who has limits on high ozone days.” They are also amazed to learn what the self-employed family pays in health care costs in order to ensure their child’s asthma remains in good control.

“As I sat in the offices of Sen. Olympia Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins a few months ago with the Conley family and told of their monthly costs for Jake’s medications, it was astonishing to see the looks on the faces of our senators,” says Vosmus. “It’s real-life stories that grab people.” •

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