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Cincinnati: Voices From the Field – Robert Kahn

When a child came into a Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Community Health clinic in 2010 to be treated for asthma, the doctor treating him did not stop at prescribing medication. Carefully trained to ask about social determinants of health, the doctor inquired about the child’s home and living environment. His mother responded that she had requested an air conditioner to ease the child’s asthma, was denied and feared being evicted if she pressed the issue. She asked the doctor if there was anything they could do to help. The provider referred her to the Legal Aid Society.

“Housing plays a really important role in asthma. Mold, cockroaches and rodents all make asthma much worse,” says Kahn, M.D., MPH, Associate Chair of Community Health. “We have been very attentive as to what are some of the out-of-the-box things that we can do for asthma in addition to providing great medical care.”

As Associate Chair for Community Health, Robert Kahn says that approximately 35,000 kids are seen throughout three clinics affiliated with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Asthma is one of the major physical health conditions they treat. This particular child’s experience was just one of 16 they connected to housing units in a handful of buildings all owned and managed by a landlord out of New York. By partnering with the Legal Aid Society, Community Health and Cincinnati Children’s hospital helped residents form tenant associations in the buildings and eventually secure a $30-million Housing and Urban Development grant to refurbish the apartments, including new ventilation systems and mold removal.

Community Health considers the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati a critical partner in addressing the social determinants of health and has worked closely with them for almost a decade. “They are passionate about the rights of renters and owners as well as landlords,” shares Kahn. “Where we came together has led to some real signature successes.”