Flint Water Crisis - An Update from Genesee & Hamilton
Thursday, February 4, 2016
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.”
“We recently obtained a lead screening device that can provide results within three minutes with just a finger prick. This will further assist in identifying individuals who should be prioritized for a full blood level test via a venous blood draw.”
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.”
Community partnerships have been a focus in planning a long-term response and both Health Centers have been working together alongside the Michigan Primary Care Association, Hurley Medical Center, the Greater Flint Health Coalition, the University of Michigan, Genesee Health System and Health Resources and Services Administration to name a few. Genesee Health System, alongside Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the US Public Health Service have planned and held community forums, which have resulted in better risk communication and as of late, the formation of the Flint Community Resilience Group to help coordinate and plan a behavioral health response plan.
In addition, the Michigan Child Collaborative Care Program (MC3), a program from the University of Michigan, has just been approved to provide Genesee county residents free child psychiatry consultations via Primary Care Providers as well as telepsychiatry evaluations and follow-up’s for a fee. MC3 provides psychiatry support to primary care providers in Michigan who are managing patients with mild to moderate behavioral health problems.
In addition to the Federal and State assistance and declarations, MPCA has a response team working with both Hamilton and Genesee to provide assistance focused on the Health Center needs including resource acquisition, partner engagement and the identification of short, mid and long term Health Center needs.
On January 29, 2016, Governor Snyder signed supplemental spending for Flint in the amount of $28 million that will:
- Supply free bottled water, faucet filters, and testing kits for Flint residents;
- Put nine nurses in local schools to monitor student health and well-being;
- Provide better nutrition for students and infants through WIC and in-school nutrition programs;
- Replace fixtures in schools, daycares, nursing homes and hospitals;
- Provide for an infrastructure study using independent experts;
- Treat any children who have high lead levels in the blood, using diagnostic testing, nurse visits and environmental assessments in the home;
- Provide additional community education opportunities within the Genesee County Health Department;
- Compensate the Michigan National Guard’s work to support water distribution;
- Assist with home lead abatement costs;
- Help the City of Flint with utility issues; and
- Provide operational funding for the Flint Interagency Advisory Committee.
On February 4, 2016, the Michigan Senate voted unanimously for the passage of a $30 million funding request to aid the city of Flint with credits for water and sewage bills until the state and federal officials the water is safe to consume. The funding request now heads to the House for consideration.