Researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center are trying to help New Yorkers breathe easier.
The researchers are conducting a three-year study which includes going into New York City homes to find and reduce allergens in order to measure the effects on asthma rates, which are especially high in northern Manhattan. According to the researchers at CUMC, that is partially due to the many allergens—like cockroach, mice, and dust mites—that are common in the types of buildings found uptown.
Researchers are currently visiting participating residents, identifying and testing allergens, and teaching those residents how to keep their homes healthier. They often instruct families how to clean in a way that removes allergens, for example.
“The counseling part makes a big difference,” Sumit Narula, one of the project’s researchers, said. “They’re basic things, but they actually start doing them.”
Narula said that they have been giving the participants with financial issues cleaning supplies and vacuums for free.
The project is one of the first preventative healthcare studies funded by the federal stimulus bill and focuses on reducing asthma before people even develop symptoms.
“It’s going to improve patient productivity, but also save the government money,” Narula said. “Sadly, our healthcare system has gone where it’s so overwhelmed that especially things like asthma … don’t get as much attention.”
Studies by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have shown that Harlem has some of the highest rates of asthma-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits in the city, particularly among lower-income families.
Last year, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development tried to address this problem more broadly with its Alternative Enforcement Program, which identified over 200 residential buildings where residents are “forced to live in substandard and hazardous conditions.”
Narula’s approach is more personal. He said that for some of the participants, this study was the first time they had spoken with a doctor one-on-one about their asthma or gotten the right dosages of medication.
Because of those benefits, residents have met the project with enthusiasm, researchers said.
“Anything that improves health is beneficial for everyone,” Arturo Montoya, a fourth-year School of Engineering and Applied Science doctoral student, said.
Over the course of the study, the researchers hope to screen 500 to 600 patients, but they have still struggled to find enough subjects to volunteer their time and homes.
Most of the recruitment has been done through the asthma clinics run by Columbia, at community health fairs, and through newspapers and fliers.
The study’s results are not ready for evaluation, but those involved said that they feel they are providing an essential service—opportunities for better health, especially for parents.
“They’re very happy that they can help their children feel better,” Narula said.