Lead Exposure in New York Children Addressed by Elmira Medical Students

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Lincoln Malloy clearly didn’t want to be there.

Lincoln, 5, grimaced as his father Steven held him still while Valerie Fiore, a medical student at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) in Elmira, prepared him for a blood test.

Lincoln was at the Chemung and Schuyler Counties Economic Opportunity Program office on May 19 to participate in a free lead screening, and Steven Malloy is glad such a program is available.

“I live in an (older) house where lead paint was used at that time,” said Malloy, who lives in Horseheads. “It’s very important. We’re in a high-lead area.”

Elmira’s lead exposure is a troublesome problem

Health officials have known for several years Elmira is a hotspot for lead exposure mainly due to its aging housing stock, with many houses built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned in residential properties.

Chemung County was recently added to the primary prevention program within the state Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program due to an identified high risk of lead exposure in children, according to the New York State Department of Health.

In 2018, Elmira had one of the highest rates of lead poisoning among children in the state. Two postcodes in Elmira – 14901 and 14904 – have been identified with a higher risk of childhood lead exposure.

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Elmira is among 24 high-risk communities in 20 counties, with 62 high-risk ZIP codes in total, the Health Department said.

Faced with the threat, LECOM joins forces with Arnot Healththe economic opportunities program and Excellus BlueCross BlueShield to provide free lead screening clinics to Head Start children and others.

BlueCross BlueShield provides the funding, EOP provides the space, and LECOM provides the manpower in the form of family medicine students who will volunteer on a rotating basis.

LECOM third-year student Zachary Fryda of Youngstown, Ohio coordinates the student volunteers.

“LECOM students in Family Medicine Rotation will work under the supervision of Family Medicine Resident Physicians to perform point-of-care lead screenings on children enrolled in Head Start, as well as any children in the community looking for lead screenings,” Fryda said.

Students will also be responsible for advising parents and setting up necessary referrals and services when issues are identified, he said.

About 60 students are involved in the rotation and they will be supervised by residents of Arnot Ogden Medical Center, Fryda added.

Nearly 97% of homes in the city of Elmira were built before 1980 and more than 78% were built before 1950, according to the US Census Bureau.

The main source of exposure in children is inhaling lead dust or ingesting paint chips, according to Chemung County Public Health Director Peter Buzzetti.

However, aging infrastructure also leads to higher lead levels. The EPA says the main source of lead in drinking water comes from pipes.

High exposure to lead, which the CDC says is more than 3.5 micrograms per deciliter, can cause brain and nervous system damage, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems. and hearing and speech problems in children.

Team effort tackles lead and other public health issues in Elmira

The three-year grant provided by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is part of a larger initiative to promote preventative health care in the Elmira community, with lead screening clinics at the center of the first year.

It is also an ideal way to address several community health issues identified by the economic opportunity program, said Andrea Ogunwumi, EOP’s chief executive.

“With all these health issues, we had a common interest – Arnot Health, Chemung County, we all knew lead was a problem,” Ogunwumi said. “It impacts all of us. With funding from Excellus, we can address these issues. Our lead levels are very high.”

The Excellus money will also allow officials to address accessibility, transportation and other issues that may prevent some people from getting the health care they need, Ogunwumi added.

Lead testing clinics are held from 2-4 p.m. every Thursday at the EOP office, 650 Baldwin St. in Elmira.

Appointments are recommended but not required. To make an appointment or for questions, call 607-734-6174.

The program is important not only because it offers free lead screening, but also provides immediate referrals for follow-up treatment and other health care needs, Ogunwumi said.

Raising public awareness is an important part of LECOM’s mission

The lead screening program is not the only LECOM project led by Fryda.

He also organized a program for third-year medical students to volunteer at Bamba’s house comfort care home in Corning, providing care for hospice clients.

Bampa’s House has only two paid staff and relies heavily on volunteers, and a ready supply of trained students is much appreciated, council chair Joan Wilson said.

“It’s a win-win scenario for everyone involved,” she said. “Students enjoy hands-on care, while residents of Bampa’s House receive high-level care.”

Community service projects are an important aspect of LECOM’s educational philosophy, said LECOM Elmira’s Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Dr. Richard Terry.

Both the lead screening program and the palliative care volunteer program are very positive projects, Terry said, as the students provide valuable service to the community while gaining real-world experience.

“The benefit is huge. It’s an opportunity to see these populations and get used to the procedures, working with children, etc.,” he said. “They work to make a difference in the community. These are all positive things for the development of a young doctor.”

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