January 29, 2021

As a FUSE Executive Fellow, Ray Cheung worked with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, helping create its first five-year capital plan, identifying project priorities, and developing a stakeholder engagement process to guide project implementation. Now he’s executive director and founder of SmartAirLA, a public-private partnership dedicated to empowering communities in Los Angeles that suffer from pollution to improve their health and environment with data.

Ray manages the project partnerships with the L.A. County Department of Public Health, Asthma Coalition of Los Angeles County, and the Blue Shield of California Foundation. SmartAirLA was recognized as the “Most Innovative Project to Improve the Safety-Net” by the L.A. County Department of Health Services and the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County. “SmartAirLA is the direct outcome of the relationships built during my FUSE fellowship,” said Ray.

How did the FUSE fellowship impact you?

FUSE enabled me to transition into a new career in my hometown of Los Angeles. After working in China on climate change and environmental sustainability for 20 years, I returned to the city of my birth to be closer to my family. As a FUSE Executive Fellow, I immediately joined a powerful network of amazing peers and established diverse relationships in Los Angeles and across the country, while learning about the machinations of local government. To my delight, my cohort included three fellows who also had lived in China.

What are you working on now?

We work to prevent asthma attacks and reduce pollution in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor and South Los Angeles community with a coalition of health organizations, clinics, and hospitals. Our first project is providing smart inhalers to children with asthma who visit hospital emergency rooms. Smart inhalers are internet-connected asthma medication devices that remind patients with asthma to take their medication. Our second project is building an Asthma Danger Zone Alert system that provides text messages to asthma patients and local residents to protect themselves from pinpointed pollution sources during high asthma-attack danger days.

What are you hoping to achieve in the next 6 to 12 months?

Community ownership of our projects is crucial for our success in reducing asthma attacks and pollution. This requires us to be patient and listen to the community, so we can improve the projects to serve community priorities. We are fortunate that we have built trusting relationships with our partners who enthusiastically support our initiatives and provide us frank feedback. In the next 6 to 12 months, our goal is to have the projects completely led by our community partners with us providing support.

Related work and press:

LA Tech4Good: Actionable Data to Protect the People [Data Con LA]
Medium: Empowering Communities with Data through the SEED Scholars Program
Blue Shield of California: This Blue Shield Foundation Grant Could Help Kids Breathe Easier
California Health Report: Smart Inhaler Project Aims to Reduce Asthma Attacks Among LA’s Low-Income Children

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash