Multnomah County Health Department

Multnomah County Health Department partners with organizations at the national, state and local levels to deliver a multi-component healthy homes program across Portland and Multnomah County, Oregon.


The Healthy Homes Program developed as a result of a community assessment which was guided by the efforts of a community-based environmental health coalition. The coalition was comprised of a network of 45 community-based organizations, local agencies and public officials and was instrumental in developing and implementing a community-based environmental health assessment to identify community environmental health concerns. The goals were to identify environmental health issues, prioritize issues, develop action plans and evaluate the progress to address selected issues. 


The assessment data and results became the impetus for developing the Healthy Homes Asthma program and focusing on improving indoor air quality and reducing asthma triggers in the homes of low income families with children with asthma. The Multnomah County Environmental Health Services (MCEHS) sponsored the Healthy Homes Coalition, which emerged from the Summit with a goal to address environmental factors that affect asthma and other health conditions by prioritizing substandard housing and housing codes.


The work of the coalition resulted in the successful submission of a grant to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Healthy Homes program in 2005. With HUD funding, MCEHS began delivering in-home nursing case management, environmental assessments, behavioral interventions and supplies to reduce asthma triggers for low-income families of children with asthma. In addition to direct care services, the program also focused on policy development, housing code enforcement, integration with clinical providers, and connections to remediation and community support resources.


MCEHS initially developed the Healthy Homes Program for low-income children with asthma who received primary care at county health department clinics. In 2009, MCEHS developed an Asthma Inspection and Referral (AIR) program, a one-time home inspection program for any child with asthma, regardless of income. AIR augmented the more in-depth Healthy Homes program, which targeted low income and less controlled children with asthma. Over time, the Healthy Homes Program broadened its services, developing the Community Asthma Inspection and Referral (CAIR) program funded by a HUD Demonstration Grant, to deliver home assessments to an even broader group of children with asthma and other environmentally related health conditions. Referrals to the Multnomah County Asthma programs now come from clinic providers and other community organizations throughout Multnomah County. Through a web based referral system the programs were able to accept referrals from community medical providers, community based organizations and other partners through-out the county. MCEHS and its growing group of partners continued to expand the services and reach of the Healthy Homes to include Healthy Homes, AIR, and CAIR. Working in collaboration with other community partners such as the City of Portland, they seek to address asthma at the individual, family, organizational, community and public policy levels to improve outcomes for all children in the county.


MCEHS' Healthy Homes program is available to low-income families and prioritizes children with uncontrolled asthma who have had recent ER visits, or who are prescribed inhaled corticosteroids. Healthy Homes positions a Community Health Nurse (CHN) as the child's case manager and a Community Health Worker (CHW) to help manage the home environment. Together, they conduct approximately seven home visits and provide ongoing telephone support. CHNs receive referrals, review cases and consult with providers. During home visits, CHNs focus on assessing asthma severity and control, reviewing medication, and developing individualized asthma care plans. CHWs work with families on environmental assessments and interventions. Both CHWs and CHNs link families to support resources; CHNs link to medical services and consult with the medical team and pharmacy, while CHWs connect families to remediation and other services.


Over approximately six months, Healthy Homes program CHWs provide customized assistance in implementing the Family Action Plan. Assistance consists of in-home and telephone support, education ,behavioral interventions, skill-building demonstrations and providing supplies, such as green cleaning kits, vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters, allergen-free bedding encasements, door mats, bed frames and linens. In addition, families may be given basic maintenance items such as batteries for smoke detectors, furnace filters or new smoke detectors. Client assistance items average $336 per family.


With the expansion of the initiative to add CAIR, providers and social service agencies began to use a Web-based system for referrals, charting, and reporting. In AIR an Environmental Health Specialist (EHS), performs a single environmental assessment. If appropriate, he might refer clients directly into Healthy Homes or CAIR. CAIR program staff included two CHWs who served as case managers. They conducted environmental assessments, basic interventions, addressed behaviors and make referrals. Physical and structural remediation concerns were referred to the EHS who was able to leverage services for home repair. Uncontrolled health issues were referred to the CAIR CHN.


The Healthy Homes program has collected outcomes data since 2005, and the CAIR program has collected data since its inception in 2010. Both Healthy Homes and CAIR programs tracked environmental assessment scores, asthma control test (ACT) scores and ER visits.


The Healthy Homes program has demonstrated a 2.5 times reduction in the use of ER and significant reduction in hospitalizations for children with asthma who have completed the program. In addition, the Healthy Homes intervention is associated with a statistically significant reduction in the number of environmental observations of asthma triggers in both Healthy Homes and CAIR. Finally, 75 percent of Healthy Homes' clients showed improved ACT scores over a six month period. Based on a 2008 evaluation conducted in partnership with Care Oregon, the managed care plan that served 99 percent of Healthy Homes' participants at the time of the evaluation, the program resulted in almost $350,000 in savings from avoided health care utilization (i.e., avoided hospitalizations and ED visits).


To sustain the program, MCEHS advocated for direct reimbursement from the State of Oregon. In 2010 MCEHS negotiated with Oregon Department of Medical Assistance Programs and Center for Medicaid Services, CMS to develop Healthy Homes targeted case management, allowing for Medicaid reimbursement. In addition, the Healthy Homes Coalition continues to seek to embed environmental solutions for asthma in the housing code, improve substandard housing and advocate for tenants.

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