Intervening against the inequitable asthma burden in New Haven

Asthma rates are significantly higher in New Haven compared to Connecticut and nationally, and continue to rise. According to a 2015 health survey by Yale’s Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE), asthma rates from 2009 to 2015 in New Haven’s six lowest income neighborhoods increased from 20% to 23%. Conversely, 2015 rates were substantially lower for Connecticut (14%) and the United States (13%).

In addition to the alarmingly high overall prevalence of asthma in New Haven, significant disparities exist across lines of gender, income and race. The 2015 CARE survey showed that rates are highest among women, Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities, as well as lower-income residents, making asthma a critical health justice issue in New Haven.

Causing shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing and coughing, asthma is a leading cause of work and school absenteeism in New Haven. A number of structural factors contribute to the disproportionate asthma burden on the city’s most marginalized communities, including environmental, housing, education, and work-related factors. Inadequate remediation of poor housing conditions and environmental triggers, alongside lack of proper medical treatment and education, places the New Haven community, and in particular communities of color and children, at high risk for asthma.

In 2017, a working group of faculty, fellows, and students across disciplines at Yale formed with a shared interest in supporting the development of high-impact, community-driven health justice project(s) focused on investigating and intervening against the high asthma burden in New Haven through structural and preventative approaches. The working group was convened by the Global Health Justice Partnership and several RAs were hired to conduct a resource and issue mapping of the asthma burden. This included scoping out the issue, through both desk research and interviews, and synthesizing information on existing programs, resources, activism, and policies to help understand the status, gaps, and needs in asthma prevention and care in New Haven.

The working group, alongside partners from a range of organizations and centers, is currently exploring opportunities for funding and interdisciplinary research and action on asthma across medical, legal, public health, and community approaches.

In Spring 2019, GHJP students Rita Gilles YLS ‘20 and Isabel Echarte ‘21 researched legal theories that could help establish accountability for landlords for excessive rates of asthma and other health conditions, in support of the Noble v. Northland class action suit headed by David Rosen and Associates; in October 2020, a state judge preliminarily approved an $18.75 million settlement in the case. Hundreds of former tenants of the Church Street South apartment complex could receive monetary damages for the respiratory problems, skin disorders, migraines, loss of furniture, dislocation and homelessness allegedly caused by the lack of repairs made by the former complex’s landlord, Northland Investment Corp. 

The following resources were produced by the working group and are intended for public use and distribution:

  1. Issue brief exploring the range of factors driving the soaring asthma rates in New Haven
  2. One-pager of asthma quick facts summarizing the key points of the issue brief for education and advocacy purposes
  3. Resource list of local community-based, medical and legal resources for people and families impacted by asthma in the greater New Haven area and CT