According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than 8.6% of all children under the age of 18 suffer from some form of asthma. Statistics peak between ages five and 14 at 10.3%. This means that one in every 11 children suffer from asthma. How many of your child’s classmates or school friends fall into this designation? Too many.

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the airways in the lungs. During an attack, these airways can become inflamed causing shortness of breath, wheezing or coughing. Asthma can be mild or severe, even life threatening. While the cause of asthma is unknown, triggers can include pollen, smoke, exercise or airway infections.

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Rebecca Hulstein, RN serves as the full-time asthma specialist at Northwest Pediatric Center helping families manage their asthma symptoms and stay out of the ER. ©LewisTalk

Not only is asthma a dangerous health condition if not properly managed, it can be an expensive one. When asthma patients and their families are unsure what to do when an attack occurs, they often head to the ER or an Urgent Care facility racking up medical bills and often losing wages due to missed work.

To address this rising health concern, Northwest Pediatric Center has a full-time, dedicated asthma and allergy specialist seeing patients in the group’s Centralia clinic – Rebecca Hulstein, RN.

Hulstein grew up in Rochester, moving later to Boisfort. She graduated from Centralia College in 2012 as a registered nurse and knew she wanted to work in a clinical setting. “I wanted to be in a setting where I could educate people and families about their health and diseases,” she explains. “I truly believe that if you educate people about their disease or condition, they are less likely to need to visit the ER or Urgent Care. They can manage their own care armed with knowledge.”

This passion for educating patients to become their own advocates started early. “I took care of my dad before he died and he never understood what things would make him better or would harm him,” she recalls. “He was never told what would help and what would harm.”

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A welcoming environment is important at Northwest Pediatric Center.

This experience led her to a job at Providence where she worked as a Nurse Navigator. “I followed-up with patients after they visited the hospital and helped educate them to stay well at home, keeping them away from more hospital visits.”

She began working at Northwest Pediatric Center just over a year ago. Her experience helping patients be their own advocates, using knowledge to help manage their health, was a perfect match to work with the many asthma patients the clinics saw on a regular basis. “We had so many ER visits and after-hours visits with patients before Rebecca joined the team,” says McKay. “Now, we have virtually no admits to the ER or hospital.”

What has made the change? Hulstein works with patients and their families to create an individualized Asthma Action Plan. “Each visit we set an action plan, giving the parents and patient details on how to respond to symptoms based on what zone they are in,” she explains.

The plan lays out three zones: green means you feel good, yellow means you don’t feel good, red means you feel awful. For each zone, the plan lists symptoms such as wheezing, coughing or feeling scared along with which medicines or interventions to take depending on each zone and when to call for medical help or advice.

By utilizing this easy, clear plan, parents know what to do given their child’s condition and typically don’t panic, taking them to the ER or urgent care. This saves time, money and stress for everyone. Creating these plans individually with patients and maintaining close monitoring and communication with families, Hulstein is helping reduce urgent care and ER visits and has virtually eliminated hospitalizations for NW Peds patients.

Northwest Pediatric Center's cheerful rooms make seeing their specialists even more exciting for kids and families. ©LewisTalk
Northwest Pediatric Center’s cheerful rooms make seeing their specialists even more exciting for kids and families. ©LewisTalk

As asthma is a disease with no known cure, patient education is the key to managing symptoms and avoiding triggers. Hulstein’s focuses her efforts on helping families identify oncoming attacks early, utilizing appropriate medications and treatments and avoiding more serious medical situations. “Our whole goal is to keep kids out of the ER and it’s working,” she says.

Understanding a patient’s asthma begins with testing and Hulstein begins with baseline testing for fitness on a treadmill. Pulmonary function tests utilize a computer program that monitors small and large airways. “Based on the testing you can see what the airways are doing and either rule out asthma as the problem or confirm it,” she explains.

In acute cases, the clinic has a pulmonologist who visits and works directly with families saving travel time and expense of travelling to other cities.

Hultstein is currently working toward earning her National Asthma Educator Certification and Northwest Pediatric Center sees the difference she is making. Through Hulstein’s expertise utilizing tests and a database of historical information on each patient, NW Pediatrics is gaining ground on this chronic condition.

“Our main focus is to help these family,” says Hulstein. “We want to educate them to be able to understand their disease, manage their care and ultimately live a full and healthy life.”

To learn more about Northwest Pediatric Center’s Asthma Program visit them online. To make an appointment with Rebecca Hulstein or any of the other physicians or specialists call 360-736-6778.


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