For a decade, the Central California Asthma Collaborative (CCAC) has aimed to reduce the burden of asthma in the San Joaquin Valley, which sits in one of the country’s most polluted air basins and reports some of the highest rates of asthma and asthma-related medical encounters in the state.
This year, the Fresno-based non-profit won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Environmental Leadership in Asthma Management Award. The CCAC is one of just two organizations to receive the annual award “for their dedication to improving the lives of millions of people who suffer from asthma, and to reducing missed days at school and work,” according to an EPA press release.
The agency recognized the CCAC specifically for one of its flagship accomplishments, a home-visit program known as the Asthma Impact Model. Valley medical providers refer high-risk patients to the program, at which point community health workers help the patients manage medications, navigate air quality information, change home air filters, and otherwise reduce asthma triggers and increase access to health care.
According to the press release, the program has improved outcomes among its patients dramatically, by reducing asthma-related hospitalizations by 70 percent and emergency department visits by 81 percent. “The program actually accomplishes the goals it sets out to, which is to return control of their lives to people for whom asthma has taken control away,” says CCAC Executive Director Kevin Hamilton.
Although Hamilton says he’s known for a long time that the program works, he welcomes the recognition from the EPA. “It feels good, man. I’ll tell you right now, it really feels good,” he says. “It tells everybody else that my staff, my team, it is one of the best in the nation.”
It’s especially notable that the program won the award following the pandemic, when the organization was forced to pivot to virtual home visits. “Many of our patients couldn’t handle virtual visits initially,” Hamilton says. “We had to develop a training program that we were doing from people’s front porches to help them learn how to use their phones in order to work with us. And the amazing thing was not only did the staff rise to this, but people in communities really showed that the program’s needed by participating.”
The EPA does not provide money to its award recipients, but Hamilton hopes the widened exposure could help the organization gain funders to ensure that the program remains free for participants.
In a statement from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, spokesperson Jaime Holt congratulated the CCAC for the award. “CCAC has developed a program that is a model for the nation and has once again demonstrated the high level of ingenuity and innovation being shown by organizations in the San Joaquin Valley,” she wrote. “Through this award, the EPA has recognized the work CCAC has been doing to improve the health and quality of life for residents living in the Valley’s many disadvantaged communities.”
The American Lung Association regularly ranks the Bakersfield, Fresno-Madera-Hanford and Visalia regions among the most polluted in the country for their pollution from ozone and harmful particles known as particulate matter.
According to state data, as many as one in five residents of Fresno and Tulare Counties will be diagnosed with asthma at some point in their lifetimes. In 2018, Fresno reported the highest rate of asthma-related hospitalizations of any California county.