Increasing access to specialty asthma, allergy care

Andrea Pappalardo

Dr. Andrea Pappalardo, outside a Mobile Care Chicago asthma van. Photo: Jenny Fontaine.

UI Health is working with a community asthma van to provide free specialty medical care to children in underserved neighborhoods around Chicago.

In the U.S., approximately one in 12 children suffer from asthma, but the rates are much higher in some Chicago neighborhoods, with more than one in five children suffering from the chronic respiratory condition.

UI Health’s Dr. Andrea Pappalardo, an asthma and allergy specialist, says the rates of asthma in Chicago are alarming.

“We have a childhood asthma problem in Chicago,” said Pappalardo, assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics in the UIC College of Medicine.

Thanks to a new agreement between the UI Health pediatrics department and the Mobile Care Foundation, a nonprofit founded nearly 20 years ago that operates mobile medical units throughout the city, Pappalardo is now spending a portion of her week providing care outside of schools in West and South Side neighborhoods — at no cost to the families.

“Many families in these underserved neighborhoods have a hard time getting the specialty care they need,” Pappalardo said. “Regardless of the reason, whether it is due insurance barriers or other social factors, we want to make it easier and that is why we are bringing care to them.”

Asthma and allergy care, she says, is a perfect fit for a mobile medical unit in Chicago not only because of the high rates in the city, but also because treating asthma does not require expensive tests or tools and can have major benefits, some of which go beyond health.

One benefit of better caring for kids with asthma could be a reduction in school absenteeism and better performance in school, Pappalardo says.

And, because asthma is a life-long condition, “helping kids understand their health and how to manage their condition early in life can lead to a much healthier adulthood,” Pappalardo said.

“Working with the nonprofit is a natural extension of UI Health’s mission of serving Chicago’s most vulnerable communities,” said Dr. Benjamin Van Voorhees, head of pediatrics. “We welcome this new opportunity to improve the health of the children living in Chicago.”

“It’s our mission to bring free medical and preventive care to the families who need it most here in Chicago,” said Matt Siemer, executive director of Mobile Care Chicago, “and we are pleased to join forces with UI Health and Dr. Pappalardo to expand that service.”

Pappalardo is the only doctor working with the Mobile Care Foundation, which has most recently worked with nurse practitioners. As a result, the kids who see Pappalardo can now also get help with food and skin allergies, in addition to their asthma and environmental allergies.

The three-year agreement between the hospital and Mobile Care Chicago will be in place through 2020.