Volunteers work to reduce asthma attacks at Paterson shelter

By Briana Vannozzi

With each new coat of paint, volunteers are chipping away at a public health crisis in Paterson.

“We’re concerned with the rates of asthma, which are very high in the community of Paterson, so we have a team that’s trying to change that,” said Ruthanne Braddock, director of clinical transformation for St. Joseph’s Healthcare System.

They’re starting at the Hilltop Heights Shelter where children who are most vulnerable to asthma inducing agents make up the majority of its population. For health care providers, the greatest battle in ridding determinants is often environment.

“Most of what we saw was chipping and flaking paint. There’s air conditioners here in the shelter, but they needed new filters, they needed nebulizers, they needed dehumidifiers. The mattresses needed some plastic covers,” Braddock said.

“We are partnering with St. Joeseph’s Hospital and the Paterson Task Force. We’re joined by Sherwin-Williams who’s providing the paint, the volunteers and the supplies and we’re painting this shelter and making two of the shelter units respiratory-friendly, particularly trying to reduce asthma triggers in the units,” said Rebuilding Together North Jersey Executive Director Gretchen Viggiano

Although Paterson represents less than a third of Passaic County’s population, the city’s children account for two thirds of all asthma attacks requiring hospitalization or an emergency department visit. Last year alone there were 1,200 asthma related visits to St. Joe’s.

“We’re not looking at just the disease. We’re looking at where is the disease, how does it exist and what are the social determinants that contribute to that? And as a health care provider we need to partner with people like the Paterson Task Force that try to eliminate some of these social disparities,” Braddock said.

“The budgeting that we have, in order to staff the agency and provide the food and other things we have, the counseling services, there is not really that much left for maintenance. You know, the basic maintenance, we keep it clean, we paint when we can, but through volunteer services is when we get most of our major things accomplished,” said Paterson Task Force Executive Director Lana Stokes.

The shelter serves as temporary housing for intact families, sometimes for up to several months. Rebuilding Together North Jersey also helps complete repair work for low-income homeowners in the community.

Volunteers will finish painting over the next two days so that clients can get back into the shelter and wrap up the project by the end of the week.