Shawn Gerstenberger is one of few doctors in Southern Nevada who still makes house calls. Although in his case, the house -- not its owner -- is the patient.
The UNLV professor heads the Nevada Healthy Homes Partnership, a collaboration between the university, the local health district, and more than a dozen community partners.
"Most people, especially children and elderly, spend more than 90 percent of their day indoors; yet we tend to not think about preserving our home environment like we do the outdoor environment," said Gerstenberger, senior associate dean of the School of Community Health Sciences. "By visiting homes, educating homeowners, and making a few simple fixes, we can greatly enhance quality of life for many who may not have the resources or ability to make necessary improvements."
Healthy Homes is an extension of the successful Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, a federally funded UNLV/health district partnership. Gerstenberger and his team inspected local homes for lead hazards, targeting those built before 1978, the year lead paint was banned. Along the way, they often noticed additional health challenges that weren't addressed through lead-related interventions alone.
"As homes age, they can deteriorate and present challenges homeowners don't even know exist," Gerstenberger said. "A pest problem could be from an interior water leak, which also presents mold and asthma triggers. That could lead to missed school and work as well as more serious health issues."
Gerstenberger and his team of graduate students are all federally certified healthy homes inspectors. They focus on identifying preventable health issues, including:
- Asthma triggers (mold, cockroaches and pests, dust, and dust mites)
- Poisoning hazards (lead-based paint, asbestos, improperly stored medicines, and cleaning supplies)
- Unintentional injuries (eliminating fall and trip hazards, installing pool fencing and smoke detectors)
The inspections often lead to simple fixes, like replacing air filters, repairing leaky pipes, and installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. When complicated structural repairs are needed, Gerstenberger calls on community partners such as Rebuilding Together to help homeowners make the necessary repairs at little or no cost.
The team has inspected more than 30 homes this year, with dozens more scheduled in the coming months. Inspections are free for all homeowners, but priority is given to low-income residents or those who otherwise would be unable to afford the repairs. Referrals for home inspections come either directly from a homeowner or through a network of local physicians, nurses, code enforcement officers, and community partners.
UNLV also serves as a national healthy homes training center -- the only one in Nevada -- preparing hundreds of first responders, health officials, and community members to become healthy homes inspectors.
The training network encourages greater community collaboration, spurs referrals, and has led to a better understanding of the connection between housing and health, Gerstenberger said.
"We work with pediatricians, for example, treating children with elevated lead levels, asthma, and other chronic issues that can seriously affect quality of life," he said. "Through Healthy Homes, our team of inspectors can find the root cause of these health problems, report the findings to the doctor, and ultimately help families."
To request a home inspection or learn more about Healthy Homes, call 702-895-5449.