Asthma-Related ER Visits Spike for California’s Children

The number of children admitted to emergency rooms for asthma complications has risen statewide, according to an analysis by Kaiser Health News. Despite millions of dollars spent on programs aimed at combatting the disease, ER visits for children between ages 5 and 17 increased 18 percent between 2005 and 2012; for those under the age of 5, ER visits rose by 6 percent.

The rate of ER visits was even higher in parts of the Central Valley, with rates doubling in both Merced and Madera. In Sacramento County, ER visits spiked 48 percent. San Bernardino County, meanwhile, saw an increase of 23 percent for children over the age of 5.

The latest figures come despite a drop in the number of asthma-related ER visits nationwide.

“There’s clearly more work to be done if this many kids are going to the emergency department,” said Anne Kelsey Lamb, director of the Regional Asthma Management and Prevention program of the Oakland-based Public Health Institute. “We know a lot about what works. We absolutely should be able to reduce the rates we’re seeing.”

Experts say a number of factors have contributed to the increase in emergency room visits. These include improper administration of medications, poverty, lack of health insurance, and pollution. The actual number of children diagnosed with the disease has remained relatively constant since 2001, however.

A number of local and regional programs have been implemented to keep asthmatic children out of emergency rooms. “Breathmobile” vans in the counties of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Orange, for instance, provide comprehensive health services to children diagnosed with the disease. But these programs are expensive and highly localized, according to said John Capitman, a Cal State Fresno public health professor and executive director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute. He adds that outreach workers have had trouble getting reimbursed by insurers, including Medi-Cal, for proven strategies like home visits.

The latest figures represent ER visits up to the year 2012. It remains to be seen whether expanded coverage under the Affordable Care Act will reduce ER visits going forward.

Read more about the increase in asthma-related ER visits here.