Salt Lake metro area is 16th in U.S. to join coalition to make homes healthier
Green initiative • Salt Lake County joins national effort to combat illness incubators.
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Chances are good that a kid with asthma will come from an unhealthy home.

To help address that expensive cause-and-effect situation, Salt Lake County and several local medical institutions and nonprofit groups signed the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative Compact on Wednesday. Salt Lake is now the 16th metropolitan area to join the national effort to provide healthy housing for economically vulnerable families.

"Healthy housing is one of the new frontiers of health care," said Ruth Ann Norton, Baltimore-based executive director of Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, which is overseen by the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning and supported by federal agencies such as Housing and Urban Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Her organization has about $100,000 to provide matching grants for local groups working on individual cases to alleviate unhealthy conditions.

Nationally, Norton said, asthma is the No. 1 cause of kids missing school, with 40 percent of childhood asthma cases triggered by environmental factors at home. Maybe a child's parents smoke or they let hair-shedding cats and dogs sleep on beds. It's not unusual to find that mold may have developed in unventilated rooms, exposing children to noxious fumes.

About 240,000 Utahns have asthma, including 9 percent of adults and 7 percent of children, added Kellie Baxter, a specialist in the Utah Department of Health asthma program. Daily, about 20 have asthma attacks severe enough to warrant hospital trips.

The program works like this:

If an agency participating in the compact comes across an individual whose background suggests an unhealthy home may be triggering adverse health effects, it can refer that person to the county Housing Program.

Housing Program officials will evaluate the home's physical characteristics and interview the family about lifestyle choices, said manager Randy Jepperson. From those reviews, a plan will be developed to make the home healthier. That may require weatherization to make a home less drafty and reduce energy loss. It could involve radon testing or the installation of smoke and carbon-monoxide alarms.

In many case, Jepperson said, the county will coordinate with nonprofits in the compact to do the work. Recipients may qualify for grants of up to $4,000 for improvements and for low-interest (zero to 3 percent) loans to cover costs above $4,000.

Michelle Hofmann, a University of Utah pediatrician, welcomed the cooperative approach. As a doctor, she noted, she can impact asthma on several medical fronts. But she has no control over patients' home environments.

"To get into homes with chronic illness is an amazing opportunity," Hofmann said. "We don't want kids coming back to the hospital."

Mayor Peter Corroon said participation in the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative is part of ongoing county efforts to ensure "people can afford to live in their homes and not just own them."

mikeg@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribmikeg —

Healthy homes

O Anyone seeking to make their homes healthier, safer and more energy efficient may contact the County Housing Program, 385-468-4886, to obtain an application form to participate in the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative. More information about the initiative is available at > greenandhealthyhomes.org. —

Compact signees

Among Wednesday's compact signatories were the University of Utah School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics, Utah Department of Health, Intermountain Healthcare, Salt Lake Valley Habitat for Humanity, Neighborworks Salt Lake, Assist Inc., Valley Services and Community Development Corporation of Utah.