AHEC - North Carolina Area Health Education Centers Program
Touched by an AHEC: Stories from 100 Counties


Harnett County | Southern Regional AHEC

AIR/1000: AHEC’s Asthma Improvement Project - Sharon Blackman

Everything was new when Sharon Blackman went to work at Excel Pediatrics in Dunn, North Carolina. The practice had recently opened and she was fresh out of nursing school. “It was my first job and I wasn’t sure which direction to go,” she recalled. Although she was inexperienced, Blackman felt that young patients with asthma could be better served than seeing them only when they were under distress, often in the hospital emergency room.
That’s when Southern Regional AHEC stepped in to help. “It was all new to me; there was a lot I didn’t know and Steve came in with a plan for what needed to be done,” Blackmanm recalled, referring to Steve Branch, Southern Regional AHEC’s director of continuing education, who introduced the practice to AIR/1000 – an AHEC asthma initiative funded by a grant through The Duke Endowment. Branch worked with the initiative from 2005 to 2007 and with Excel Pediatrics over the course of a year from late 2006 through 2007.

AIR/1000 aims to improve outcomes of care for all asthmatic children and supports the NC AHEC initiative of integrating practice-based, outcome-oriented approaches to continuing medical education (CME). This collaborative program includes interventions at the policy, health care system, and practice levels to implement a model of chronic illness care that involves all practices and communities in the nine-county region served by SR-AHEC.

“Steve worked with us, gave us the guidelines and helped us to work out the details. It made a huge improvement,” Blackman said.

To implement the changes suggested by the AIR/1000 program, the staff at Excel Pediatrics reviewed charts of their young patients with a diagnosis of asthma. Among the improvements was to make sure their young asthma patients had regular, consistent checkups. This includes a check-off list specific to asthma:

  1. checking the number of times patients had to depend on an inhaled steroid
  2. updating their preventative medications and rescue medications (breathing treatments)
  3. checking that they are using proper equipment such as the nebulizer and peak flow meters
  4. determining emergency room allergens
  5. smoking cessations for adults in the family

“Prior to our relationship with Southern Regional AHEC, we only caught up with these patients when they were in distress,” Blackman said. “Now they come in on a monthly basis.”

Improved Outcomes
Blackman has witnessed a major change in how many of their young patients now keep their asthma better regulated than before Excel Pediatrics implemented the AIR/1000 program. “It is a huge difference,” she said. “These patients now have regular checkups and about 90 percent of our patients are compliant with the program. Since we implemented the program, we’ve had zero emergency room visits because of asthma,” she said proudly.

“Our partnership with Southern Regional AHEC is important. This was my first experience with AHEC. Since then, I’ve been to some classes and have used their library. It’s a great resource that not enough people know about, but I am going to tell everyone I know.”