Illinois schools adapting to new 'asthma emergency' law

(Illinois Springfield/Flickr)

CHICAGO (AP) - School personnel across Illinois are adapting to a new state law that requires districts to have an emergency protocol to deal with asthma emergencies.

Under the law anyone who works with students must be trained to handle asthma emergencies. All children with asthma must have a written "asthma action plan" at the school as well, the Chicago Tribune reported. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the legislation in August, and it went into effect Jan. 1.

Mothers such as Sheri Hurdle, whose 12-year-old daughter Imanni has severe asthma, still worry. Hurdle has previously made sure that school staff had the medication and training needed to keep her daughter safe while she attended Walter S. Christopher Elementary School in Chicago.

"It can be overwhelming and scary," Hurdle said. "Now that she's older and stronger, managing her asthma has become less intense, but nevertheless it remains a daily priority."

Maureen Damitz, spokeswoman for the Illinois Asthma Consortium, said nearly 14 percent of children have asthma, but more than 76 percent of those children don't have their asthma under control. The rates are higher in areas in minority communities such as Latinos and African-Americans where asthma rates are estimated at 20 percent, she said.

The new law also will provide data on how many students in Illinois are reported to have asthma on medical forms required for admission, Damitz said.

"Asthma has been a chronic problem for a long time; it did not just rear its ugly head," Damitz said. "But I think people are more aware that we need to change something."

Dr. Edward Pont, chairman of the government affairs committee for the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the effort "should do a lot of good for the children." The academy was one of 17 groups that supported the measure in Illinois, which is one of two dozen states that require asthma emergency protocols.

"I don't think it's ever been approached in this coordinated statewide manner before," Pont said.

Advocates will now lobby for a state-wide policy requiring school nurses to stock the drug used in inhalers, Damitz said.