Health Center News

A Note about the Flint Water Crisis

File photo.
File photo.

Many of us have been following the headlines regarding the water crisis in Flint, MI.  Our friends at the Michigan Primary Care Association have sent out a newsletter regarding the crisis. The following is an excerpt:

As the Flint Water Crisis continues to unfold, resources continue to take shape alongside the development of short, mid and long term planning. Michigan Primary Care Association reached out to the two Michigan Health Centers serving Flint residents to gain additional insight into the growing demand for testing, monitoring, education, outreach and mental health services – both now and into the unforeseeable future.

Two Michigan Health Centers serve the residents of Genesee County – Hamilton Community Health Network, Inc. and Genesee Community Health Center. Hamilton Community Health Network, a Federally Qualified Health Center, receives funding as a Community Health Center (330E) and a Public Housing Health Center (330I).  Genesee Community Health Center, also a Federally Qualified Health Center, receives funding as a Health Care for the Homeless Health Center (330H) and a Public Housing Health Center (330I).

Inside Hamilton Community Health Network, patient health is a growing concern. “We are seeing an increase in the number of patients visiting our three medical facilities affected by the water crisis,” said Cynthia Edwards, Director of Marketing and Planning for Hamilton. “At our main site, located at 2900 N. Saginaw, we show a 7 percent increase in patient visits from November 2015 to December 2015 with a 6.6 percent increase in January 2016.” Edwards adds “we are seeing an increase in patients who are requesting to have lead level blood testing along with other labs tests they are having done as well as simply coming in and requesting to have lead testing only.” 

In addition to an increase in testing, Hamilton has also seen an increase in adult and children skin rashes and a predictable increase in parental concern with their children’s well-being. “Residents of Flint are not only dealing with the physical risks associated with exposure to lead,” mentions Clarence Pierce, CEO for Hamilton, “but the economical and emotional impact from the crisis as well. Our providers are encountering parents who are concerned about their children, particularly the mental health of their children, now and in the future.”

In total, Hamilton has five sites serving the residents of Genesee County. At their North Pointe site, which has been largely affected by the water crisis, there was a 12.5 percent increase in patients seen from November 2015 to December 2015. Their Burton site also experienced a slight increase in patients at 8.2 percent as some residents are also on the Flint water pipeline. Hamilton anticipates the numbers will continue to grow as awareness grows and additional resources become available. The story is similar at Genesee Community Health Center where patient screening for lead testing continues to increase. “The population we serve at Genesee already has such complex needs that the water crisis just adds one more layer to the numerous issues our patients face each day,” said Honor Potvin, Interim Executive Director at Genesee Community Health Center. “Our social workers estimate they have provided therapy on water crisis related mental health issues to 400 – 600 patients over the last four weeks and our health coaches estimate providing emotional support and/or assistance obtaining bottled water and filters to over 4,000 people in the Flint area since the beginning of January.”

In addition to tracking the Blood Lead Levels of all children under the age of six who receive services at the Health Center, Genesee is sending out letters and directly contacting families to bring them in for testing while simultaneously working to educate families on the meaning of test results and the importance of continuous monitoring. “In addition to understanding what a test result means there is also a need to have families undergo continuous monitoring to ensure an increase or decrease in exposure is tracked and treated,” said Potvin. “An exposure to lead may have occurred in the past, but would not show up in a current test…monitoring is imperative at both ends of the spectrum.” In addition to working to educate and test patients, Genesee is working on securing the necessary supplies for patients, acquire additional lead testing supplies and securing funds to help get their mobile unit operational. “While we are working to becoming a water and filter distribution site, we are providing bottled water for our patients,” adds Potvin. “While we need additional lead testing supplies, we recently received a lead screening device that can provide results within three minutes with just a finger prick enabling staff to quickly identify individuals who should be prioritized for a full blood level test via venous blood draw.” Securing additional funds to get their mobile unit is imperative “as it is a key method to connect with disenfranchised and transient community members, who have surely been affected,” mentions Potvin. “This is our number one ask at this time as we work to secure the necessary resources and funding support to enable the mobile unit to be operational and out in the community providing outreach, education and testing.”

The full text of the MPCA update can be viewed at this link.

We also reached out to our friends at Direct Relief, which issued the following statement: “Direct Relief has made available up to $50,000 in emergency funding for health centers in Flint for towards testing, treatment, or other resources as needed. Our standing inventory of critical medicines and supplies have been made available to health centers during this crisis.”

We will keep you posted on this issue as developments continue.