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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Public Health Nurses on the Front Line in Flint

Author: Loretta Jackson Brown, PhD, RN, CDC Flint Field Case Management Team Lead and Kristin (Danielle) Lecy, RN, CPN, LCDR, U.S. Public Health Service, CDC Flint Field Case Manager
Published Date: 5/6/2016 9:55:00 AM
Category: Response & Recovery;

Families in Flint, Michigan are experiencing a public health crisis resulting from elevated lead levels in drinking water On January 19, President Obama designated the HHS as the lead Federal agency responsible for coordinating Federal support for response and recovery efforts in Flint. As part of the response, federal agencies provided technical assistance to aid the county in establishing processes to enroll children with high blood lead levels in case management and helped the county contact families to enroll eligible children.​

Public Health Nurses in Flint For parents of children in Flint with high lead levels, getting their kids on a path to a healthier childhood means answering a lot of tough questions. How do I reduce lead levels in my home? What assistance programs can I use? What can I do to help my child?

Public health nurses used their skills to serve as case managers to help these families find answers to these very tough questions.

We are two of the nurse case managers from CDC who have been deployed to serve in Flint – Nurse Danielle comes from Alaska and Nurse Loretta is from Georgia. We worked with families of children who have been diagnosed with high blood lead levels.

Some of the people in Flint can be hard to reach. So our first job was to establish a connection. Sometimes that meant calling them on the phone, sometimes that was a home visit, and sometimes we used text messaging. We worked to meet people where they were and to communicate in a way that worked for them.

Once we established a connection, we started developing a relationship. We wanted the families to know that they could trust us to answer their questions honestly and help them find solutions.

As nurses, we provided families with the information they needed to help them make better choices about mitigating lead exposure. We could see the stress that Flint families are enduring, and we were extra careful to make sure that we provided compassion and empathy to help them get through a tough situation.

Identifying and reducing sources of lead in Flint is a real challenge – there are a lot of things that Flint families can do and there’s a lot to learn. We showed people how to clean their aerators and install water filters. We taught them about other common sources of lead in their homes. Many Flint homes still have lead paint and the dirt that kids play in may be contaminated with lead. We helped families understand many different things in their homes that could be contributing to their child’s blood lead levels. We talked with families about steps they can take to limit exposure to lead and about how good nutrition can help decrease lead levels in children’s bodies.

We also helped connect families with federal programs - like Head Start, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Medicaid – that provide assistance to help Flint children overcome the effects of lead. Navigating these programs can hard. We helped guide families through the process.

Some families in Flint don’t have the resources to access the assistance programs that are available to them. Free water filters or medical coverage doesn’t do much good if a person can’t get to a distribution center or a doctor. For families that don’t have a car, this can be a real challenge. So we helped out by providing bus passes or by bringing filters to their homes.

Nurse case managers from CDC, FDA, Indian Health Service, and Health Resources and Services Administration worked to help children in Flint live healthier lives – but our deployment was temporary. We worked side by side with our fantastic colleagues at the Genesee County Health Department to reach out to more than 375 families.

Now, through a contract with the state, other case management staff will provide continuity of care, working with the county health department and the community every day.

So what have nurse case managers done to help people in Flint? We have been advocates for families and for health. We’ve been a link to bring resources to the people who need them. We’ve been caring spirits listening to patients and helping them work through challenges. We provided a kind word and helped families work through their health challenges when it seemed like there are obstacles that patients can’t get past.

Nurses are helping people in their communities every day in so many ways – some that you could probably guess, but some that you might not know about. During National Nurses Week, take a moment to thank a nurse in your community for all of the ways that they protect health and save lives every day.


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