Flint organizations announce Pediatric Public Health Initiative

FLINT (WJRT) - (01/14/16) - It was announced Thursday morning that multiple organizations in Flint are going to work together to support the health of children in the city.

"The sense I have is the awesome responsibility - and I don't mean awesome in that flip way, awesome, deep responsibility that it's so huge," said Dr. Eden Wells, the chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine and Hurley Children's Hospital announced Thursday that they are teaming up with the Genesee County Health Department and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to create a Pediatric Public Health Initiative.

"We're starting to do a great job on the emergency relief stuff, and we need to think about how are we going to optimize the health of these children," said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the director of pediatric residency at Hurley Children's Hospital and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the MSU College of Human Medicine. "We can sit back and we can do nothing, and we can see the consequences of lead poisoning, but we owe it to these kids to make sure they have the brightest futures possible. And that's what this initiative is. It's bringing in the greatest minds from MSU, from Hurley, to see what can we do for these children."

The collaboration brings together experts in pediatrics, child development, psychology, epidemiology, nutrition, toxicology, geography and education.

"We can be most effective by insuring that we have good partnerships, that we connect individuals, that we're communicating the same messages to our community so that they can build trust in the work that we need to do going forward to solve the problems that have been created as a result of what happened here," said Mark Valacak, of the Genesee County Health Department.

"We will help to organize and staff the pediatric public health initiative," said Dr. Dean Sienko, the associate dean of Prevention and Public Health at the MSU College of Human Medicine. "It is critical that we have a partnership with many in this community and in particular, governmental public health agencies."

There are three main parts to the initiative.

"One is assessment - we're going to continue the research that we've already done to see the impact of the exposure - what happened, how bad was it - that scientific research," Hanna-Attisha said. "The second thing that we're going to do is continue monitoring. We're working with the state very closely, with the county, to continue to monitor lead levels in children and other indicators of children's health. And the third thing is those interventions - this is where we're really focusing on the tomorrow. We have to focus on that tomorrow because we owe it to these kids."

Public health records will be used to determine the extent of any lead-related health issues for the city - even past issues.

"Do know that these are data sharing agreements that are held to strict law, to strict investigational scientific research regulations," Wells said.

"We're looking back to look at the maternal fetal impact of this - lead can cause miscarriages, how many babies weren't born," Hanna-Attisha said. "We're looking at the impact were babies born more premature or low birth weight, we're also doing some innovative DNA genetic work to see the consequences of lead. So we have a lot of secondary research projects to research to see how bad was it."

Lead is a neurotoxin - which can impact IQ and cognitive performance and behavior, among other things. So one goal is to establish programs if need be.

"If we intervene now," Hanna-Attisha said. "If we get these kids in early literacy programs and universal preschool, and good nutrition - all of these things that are evidence based that we can do now - when we study them in 10 or 20 years, maybe we won't see all of those problems."

With this initiative, Flint may turn into a model for other communities in the future.

"This is a precedent-setting event in terms of what has happened to this community and in terms of what we're trying to do to not only intervene, but prevent it from happening anywhere else in the world," Valacak said.

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