In the Illinois Community

For Young Asthma Patients, Relief Arrives on Four Wheels

When Angel Gabriel Farias was just 14 months old, he got a cold, like babies do. But then he started to cough. The coughing got so bad that he turned purple and couldn’t catch his breath. His parents rushed him to a hospital. He was diagnosed with pneumonia.

The medicine helped him recover. Until the next time he caught a cold. Another bout of terrible coughing, another trip to a hospital. And another. And another.
Finally, his pediatrician suspected his illness might be asthma, the most common chronic illness in children. He referred Angel to a specialist.

His mom, Griselda, tried to get an appointment, but learned that it would be a year before a specialist could see Angel. And the Farias family doesn’t have much money. They had few options for seeing an asthma specialist. The hospital staff had another idea: take Angel to see the asthma specialists who come to his neighborhood on four wheels.

Access to Care

Statistics show that from 2012-2014, African-American children had an asthma-related death rate 10 times that of non-Hispanic white children. Hispanic children overall are twice as likely as white children to die from an asthma-related causes as Caucasian children.

Mobile Care Chicago was created in 1998 to serve patients exactly like Angel Farias: children from low income families who otherwise might never be diagnosed with asthma or get the specialized care they need.

The nonprofit’s mission is to be a full service specialty provider of asthma care for children.

“We make sure they never have a problem with asthma,” Matt Siemer, director of operations for the Chicago-based nonprofit. “It’s a difficult mission, but it’s doable.” 
It is funded solely by donations, including support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield through a partnership with the American Lung Association of Illinois . With members in multiple states, we have the unique ability to use lessons we’ve learned from relationships in one state to benefit our members in all locations. Angel’s story is one of these valuable lessons learned.

The vast majority of the children who get their asthma care from Mobile Care Chicago are low-income children who “had been cycling through the ER for years. One kid had been to the ER 90 times,” says.

It was outrage at the injustice of children dying from asthma attacks that brought about the creation of Mobile Care Chicago.

“For higher income families, when a child is diagnosed with asthma, it might be inconvenient, but it’s not life threatening or painful. In low-income neighborhoods, we still have fatalities every year,” Siemer says. “From a social justice perspective, that is completely unacceptable. We have the medications and the research. It’s all right here. It’s just a matter of access.”

Making the Rounds

Today, Mobile Care Chicago operates two fully equipped asthma clinics housed in RVs. Two more Mobile Care RVs are fully equipped dental clinics, meeting another important health care need in low-income areas.

In one South Side Chicago neighborhood where 30 percent of the children have been diagnosed with asthma, the mobile clinic is the sole asthma specialty provider. The Mobile Care RV parks in the lot of the local hospital and an asthma educator is stationed in the emergency department. When children show up complaining of breathing problems, the educator sends them to the Mobile Care RV for assessment. If it turns out the child has asthma, Mobile Care will provide the needed specialty care free of charge until the child graduates high school or turns 19.

The mobile asthma clinics make the rounds of 47 schools in poorer Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs. They provide a full range of asthma care to 1,200 children ages six months to 18 years each year. They conduct lung function tests, provide free medications, and teach children and the adults who love them how to avoid asthma triggers and take their medications correctly.