May 27, 2009

Toxic Tour Blog: Inside West Oakland’s ‘Breathmobile’

By Kwan Booth
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Part of the Bay Area Toxic Tour

Talking to Dr. Washington Burns the other day I learned some pretty shocking information: 37 percent of the adults and 20 percent of the kids living in West Oakland have asthma and children living in this community are seven times more likely to be hospitalized for breathing related illness than any other children in California.

And Alameda County as a whole is no prize, with one of the highest overall hospitalization rates among 5-17 year old youth.

I learned this bit of info while sitting inside the Breathmobile, the new mobile asthma testing facility run by the Prescott Joseph Center, where Dr. Burns is executive director. And while the numbers are shocking on the first mention, it’s something West Oakland residents have been battling for a years.

For the last 14 years the Prescott Joseph Center has been somewhat of an oasis for west Oakland residents seeking information on a variety of health and wellness issues. The center, located only a short distance from the Port of Oakland, is home to the Asthma Education Center, the only place in the area where those without insurance (a large percentage of the residents) can receive care and instruction on breathing related illnesses. And while the education center has been around since 2001, the Breathmobile is a new solution to an old problem: access to quality health care in low income communities.

As I’ve been reporting over the last few weeks I’ve repeatedly heard residents express their frustration at how hard it was to see a qualified doctor. Many people I spoke with were working 2 and 3 jobs to support their families and taking time off for doctor’s visits usually just wasn’t an option. The goal of the Breathmobile is to take the hospital to the people, instead of the other way around. Beginning in July, the clinic will be traveling to area events to provide on the spot diagnoses and assistance.

But while providing quality care is one issue Dr. Burns and Mary Frazier, the Breathmobile’s RN, brought up another important point. Even if the resources are there, the people have to value and use them or they still won’t work.

Ms. Frazier talked about a series of informal surveys they conducted with various Prescott Joseph clients. When asked their most pressing concerns, most people listed lack of money and quality jobs as the main issue. After this was violence followed by a list of other concerns. Even with the abnormally high level of documented cases, asthma and breathing related illnesses ranked somewhere between 5-7th with most people. These estimates were echoed by the chairwoman of West Oakland Acorn Shirley Burnell, who we mentioned in the initial Newsdesk story. Ms. Burnell and her team asked similar questions and nearly identical answers.

How do you help people who, for whatever reason, aren’t inclined to receive the help?

As much as this story is focusing on the immediate dangers posed by the Port of Oakland and the diesel particulates produced by the trucks, it’s clear that there’s a much bigger and more complicated issue at hand. More soon.

One thought on “Toxic Tour Blog: Inside West Oakland’s ‘Breathmobile’

  1. Dear Kwan Booth,

    There are differents in the understanding the condition of West Oakland, pollution issuess, levels operation, who as poltical power and will?

    How does environmentialist, environmential justice, racism and health plays in the quality of life of the West Oakland impact residents?

    Who have the resources, tools and capicitiy to education the resident to lead the all parts of the confused in relationship to history of the mess of air, land and future health of WO?