Organizers of a collaborative project aimed at improving the health of kids with asthma in some of Des Moines' poorest neighborhoods are accepting a $250,000 federal grant this morning in Washington, D.C.


Multiagency project began 
with a chance meeting

A project that began with an in-flight discussion between the heads of two social services agencies has blossomed into a project involving more than a half-dozen social services agencies and all three Greater Des Moines hospitals as well as the city of Des Moines and the Des Moines Public Schools.

The initiative, called Healthy Homes East Bank, targets deteriorating housing in the Capitol Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Park, and Capitol East neighborhoods, where moisture, mold and pests have led to elevated rates of asthma. Of particular concern are the disproportionately high rates of pediatric asthma-related emergency room visits.


Funded by a $250,000 matching BUILD Health Challenge grant, the project will leverage more $500,000 in hospital funding and in-kind services from social services agencies in Greater Des Moines. The money also will help renovate homes and provide medical services for selected families in the 50317 ZIP code, which has been identified as having the highest rate of asthma-related emergency room visits in central Iowa. Additionally, in the past three years, Des Moines hospitals have recorded more than 150 hospital admissions of children with asthma-related complications.


"It is first and foremost a health improvement project," said Eric Burmeister,  executive director of Polk County Housing Trust Fund. Other partners in the project include the Polk County Health Department, Mercy Medical Center, Broadlawns Medical Center, UnityPoint Health, the city of Des Moines, Viva East Bank, the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation, Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa, Polk County Public Works and Des Moines Public Schools.  


"We have, as the health community, been talking over the last several years about what are called social determinants of health, which has nothing to do with doctors and clinics," Burmeister said. "It has to do with what sort of conditions that folks experience every day that can have an impact on their health outcomes."


Visiting Nurse Services will provide initial assessments of families identified by the hospitals, while Polk County Health Department will conduct housing assessments. Polk County Housing Trust Fund will provide remediation for the properties, and Mid Iowa Health Foundation will make up any funding support that can't be provided by other agencies, Burmeister said.


The innovative project is being recognized among 18 projects collectively receiving $8.5 million in grants and low-interest loans as part of the Bold, Upstream, Integrated, Local and Data-Driven (BUILD) program to improve public health. Each BUILD grant will advance a partnership among a local health department, health care system and community-based organization dedicated to improving opportunities for health in low-income urban neighborhoods.


The Build Health Challenge is a national award program funded by the Advisory Board Co., the de Beaumont Foundation, the Colorado Health Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.