Income inequalities have lead to a growing disparity throughout Hamilton County, and its youngest citizens are paying the highest price.

A study between 2009 and 2011 showed children from disadvantaged areas were 88 times more likely to go to the hospital for asthma than children from higher income communities.

“We know mold and water damage are all bad for asthma and it makes sense for children living in healthy homes to have less of an issue,” says Dr. Robert Kahn, professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and director of the Community Health Initiative.

As director of the CHI, Kahn is leading a team of physicians who have partnered with community, school and government officials to collect information about the conditions afflicting children in neighborhoods throughout the county. The groundbreaking program hopes the information gathered will close the growing disparities between low-income and high-income homes.

“We are all confident in knowing this disparity exists,” says Kahn. “If we tolerate children living in a toxic environment, it’s a sad comment on the future of our society.”

Dr. Mona Mansour is spearheading the asthma health initiative and works with school nurses to pinpoint where asthma issues are the worst.

“A lot of what we learn from asthma is applicable to other conditions,” says Mansour. “If you have poorly controlled asthma, odds are you are less likely to seek care for other issues.”

Her responsibilities include partnering with legal agencies that can leverage stubborn landlords into improving housing conditions that might accelerate issues such as asthma. Their partnership with the Cincinnati Health Department allows home inspections to address issues with the landlord and pursue legal action if necessary.

Among the other initiatives, Kahn and other physicians have reached out to first responders and police officers to address injuries and ways of preventing common emergency room visits. Both Kahn and Mansour see the methods becoming more prevalent in the future.

“The power is going to have to shift to the communities,” says Kahn, who thinks the future will offer financial incentives to keep children out of the emergency room.

“Right now hospitals get paid to admit people in the emergency room,” he says. “We need to have incentives to not have children come to the emergency room.”

Cincinnati Children’s is known throughout the world for its cancer research, but the hospital’s initiative is one of the few in the country and the only program of its kind in Cincinnati. However, Kahn is cautious about bestowing any success on the program quite yet.

“Children’s Hospital has always focused on using the best methods of quality improvements and starting small and working big,” he says. “We are starting with a small focus and working community by community.”