Tennessee CHAMP Program Eases Asthma in Children

Alex Rodriguez

Written by Alex Rodriguez


Asthma is not just a public health issue; it is a direct threat to the wellbeing of millions of children across the United States. With approximately 25 million Americans living with asthma, including 4.7 million children under the age of 18, the impact of this chronic condition is far-reaching and particularly challenging to manage in youth. In 2020 alone, childhood asthma accounted for a substantial number of emergency department visits, as well as hospital stays, demonstrating the severity of this issue in pediatric health. Monitoring and controlling asthma in children requires not only medical attention but also a comprehensive understanding of the complex environmental and social factors at play.

The situation is even more acute in specific regions, such as Shelby County, Tennessee, which has reported the highest rates of pediatric hospitalizations for asthma within the state. It’s a region where emergency room visits for asthma complications are more common among children enrolled in TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, than those with private insurance. This disparity often exists in areas with fewer primary care options, highlighting a significant gap in healthcare accessibility and resources.

The CHAMP Program: A Beacon of Hope in Shelby County

Le Bonheur Children’s Physicians and Community Outreach recognized the urgent need for a targeted response to this public health crisis and, in 2012, established the Childhood Asthma Management Program (CHAMP) in Shelby County. With a clear objective to enhance asthma management among children and reduce hospital visits, CHAMP has taken a community-based approach to tackle the issue head-on.

CHAMP’s strategy is rooted in evidence-based methods and the cultivation of strong community relationships that allow for a better healthcare experience. The program emphasizes representative staffing, which mirrors the demographics of the community served, and focuses on improving care access while addressing the broader social determinants of health that affect asthma outcomes.

Dr. Christie Michael, CHAMP’s medical director, has been a proponent of the program’s community engagement ethos. She understands that the success of such an initiative relies heavily on the involvement and collaboration of the very people it aims to serve.

CHAMP’s Approach and Positive Impact

From its inception through to 2022, CHAMP has enrolled 1,348 children, and detailed data from 945 participants who completed a full year in the program have been analyzed. These children, mostly male and Black with an average age of nearly seven, were identified as high risk for asthma complications. CHAMP has not only worked to provide medical support but has also tackled barriers such as transportation difficulties and limited access to after-hours care.

The program offers a range of services aimed at mitigating these challenges, including transportation assistance, home visits from healthcare professionals, the availability of a respiratory therapist, and partnerships with local organizations to tackle environmental and social factors contributing to asthma exacerbations. One particularly notable feature of CHAMP is the 24-hour phone line, which offers caregivers the support they need at critical times.

The results of these efforts have been promising, with CHAMP reporting reductions in various types of healthcare visits, fewer asthma exacerbations per child, and overall decreased healthcare costs. A third-party cost analysis indicated that CHAMP was able to reduce healthcare expenses by $2,180 per child per year. For families and the healthcare system alike, these savings are significant, underlining the value of CHAMP’s comprehensive approach.

Charting the Future of CHAMP

Despite the triumphs, the CHAMP program continues to seek sustainable ways to maintain and expand its reach. Funding is a critical component of this, as is the potential integration of additional support roles to enhance the program’s offerings. Experts in the field have recognized that the CHAMP model could be adapted to manage other high-risk health conditions and can be tailored to meet the unique needs of different communities.

Further improvements to the program could also focus on engaging families who have not enrolled or those who dropped out. By examining the reasons behind their hesitance or withdrawal, CHAMP could introduce new elements, such as behavioral health support and better coordination with other community programs, to address these gaps and further refine its approach.

The program’s success in Shelby County provides a blueprint for how other communities could confront childhood asthma and potentially other chronic conditions. It stands as a testament to the power of community-oriented healthcare initiatives that prioritize accessibility, education, and comprehensive support for managing complex health challenges among children.

Navigating the Path to Healthier Futures

The CHAMP program has made remarkable strides in addressing the multifaceted challenges of childhood asthma in Shelby County. By employing a model that encompasses medical intervention, social support, and community engagement, CHAMP has paved the way for a brighter future for children at risk of severe asthma complications. The program’s success serves as an inspiring example of how healthcare can transcend traditional boundaries to create lasting, positive change in the lives of those it serves.

As CHAMP looks to the future, the program’s leaders and stakeholders remain committed to refining their approach, securing the necessary resources, and expanding their reach to ensure that every child with asthma receives the comprehensive care they deserve. This endeavor, while ambitious, has the potential to transform the landscape of pediatric asthma care and set a new standard for community health initiatives across the nation.