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Med students join effort to reduce lead poisoning in Elmira

Jeff Murray via Associated Press
Posted 6/25/22

Lincoln Malloy clearly didn’t want to be there. Lincoln, 5, grimaced as his dad Steven held him still while Valerie Fiore, a medical student at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in …

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Med students join effort to reduce lead poisoning in Elmira

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Lincoln Malloy clearly didn’t want to be there.

Lincoln, 5, grimaced as his dad Steven held him still while Valerie Fiore, a medical student at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Elmira, prepared him for a blood draw.

Lincoln was at the Economic Opportunity Program of Chemung and Schuyler Counties office in May to take part in a free lead screening, and Steven Malloy is glad such a program is available. “I do live in an (older) house where lead paint was being used in that time frame,” said Malloy, of Horseheads. “It’s very important. We’re in an area with a high lead content.”

A long-time issue

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

Chemung County was recently added to the Primary Prevention Program within the statewide Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program because of an identified elevated risk of childhood lead exposure, 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 zip codes in Elmira — 14901 and 14904 — were identified with higher risk of childhood exposure to lead. 

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

In response to the threat, the college is partnering with Arnot Health, the Economic Opportunity Program and Excellus BlueCross BlueShield to provide free lead screening clinics for Head Start children and others.

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

How effort works

Third-year student Zachary Fryda, of Youngstown, Ohio, is coordinating the student volunteers.

“LECOM students on their family medicine rotation will be working under the supervision of family medicine resident physicians to perform point of care lead screenings on children enrolled in Head Start, as well as for any child in the community seeking lead screenings,” Fryda said.

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

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

Old housing

Almost 97% of homes in the City of Elmira were built prior to 1980 and more than 78% were built before 1950, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The primary source of exposure among children is inhalation of lead dust or ingestion of paint chips, according to Chemung County Public Health Director Peter Buzzetti.

However, aging infrastructure is also leading to higher lead levels. The EPA says the primary source of lead in drinking water is from pipes.

A high exposure to lead, which the CDC says is any amount above 3.5 micrograms per deciliter, can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems and hearing and speech problems in children.

Other health issues

The three-year grant provided by Excellus BlueCross Blue-Shield is part of a larger initiative to promote preventative healthcare in the Elmira community, with lead screening clinics the focus of the first year.

It’s also a perfect way to address several community health issues identified by the Economic Opportunity Program, said EOP Chief Executive Officer Andrea Ogunwumi.

“With all these health issues, we had a united interest — Arnot Health, Chemung County, we all knew lead is an issue,” Ogunwumi said. “It has an impact on all of us. With funding from Excellus, we can address these issues. Our lead levels are very high.”

The Excellus money will also enable officials to address accessibility, transportation and other issues that might make it difficult for some people to obtain the healthcare they need, Ogunwumi added.

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

Public outreach

The lead screening program isn’t the only LECOM project spearheaded by Fryda.

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

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

“It’s a win-win scenario for everyone involved,” she said. “The students experience hands-on caregiving, while Bampa’s House residents receive high level care.”

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

The lead screening program and hospice care volunteer program are both very positive ventures, Terry said, because the students are providing a valuable service to the community while gaining real-world experience.

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

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