From the Front Lines: Newark, New Jersey

Conceived and supported by The Kresge Foundation and launched in 2009 to address health issues that deriving from in-home environmental hazards, the Advancing Safe and Healthy Homes Initiative (ASHHI) was a national program that grew from a Kresge Health Program initiative to reduce childhood lead poisoning into a comprehensive effort to address home dangers such as asthma-triggering allergens, fire hazards, substandard insulation, and weatherization; repair problems, like broken steps and railings; and neighborhood nuisances, like abandoned buildings that invite crime. The six ASHHI community sites focused their efforts on local housing units in which they intended to reduce childhood lead poisoning, asthma-related medical events, and home safety hazards through policy making, advocacy/community organizing, and legal enforcement.

A Not-So-Routine Visit

During a routine WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) registration visit in 2011, the mother of a child happened to view a lead educational presentation while in the waiting area. As a result, she became interested in knowing her child’s lead level and agreed to have her son tested.

Following the test and evaluation, the chief pediatrician sent the child directly to the hospital for admission and informed the primary care physician of the child’s lead level.

An immediate inspection of the child’s Newark residence revealed lead dust and peeling paint. The landlord was quickly told about his obligation to remove the lead and of the availability of the Newark Department of Health and Human Services’s (NDHHS; now Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness) Lead Hazard Remediation Demonstration Grant (LHRDG). Since his income exceeded program requirements, the landlord was given a list of licensed lead abatement contractors and engaged one to remove the lead hazards.

Meanwhile, the child was hospitalized for four days while Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP) worked with hospital social workers to place the child and his family of five, in an NDHHS lead-safe house. CLPPP also enrolled the child in the lead nurse case management program that included weekly visits to ensure the parent was correctly administering the child‘s medications and getting the child’s lead level tested. Because this family had recently relocated and had no family members in the state of New Jersey, CLPPP also assisted with bus tickets, occasional pharmacy trips, and food referrals. It also ensured this family’s medical and social well-being throughout the process.

Eventually, the child’s lead level dropped drastically as a result of the chelation therapy received in the hospital, follow-up medication and removal from the lead environment. The family returned to a lead safe environment in their primary dwelling after seven weeks.

Young Mother, Low Rent

In 2010, a telephone call revealed that a young mother and her preschool twins were living in an “affordable” Newark apartment that might contain lead-based paint.

After a lead risk assessor conducted an “Inspection on Demand,” he was shocked to find four-year-olds living in horrible conditions with many lead hazards. Fortunately, immediate testing of the children revealed that their blood lead levels were still low. The program cited the landlord and also found the young mother in need of many services, including furniture and food.

The Newark CLPPP immediately intervened, moving the family into the program’s fully furnished lead-safe house and called social services to assist the family with finding a permanent residence. During the family’s stay in the safe house, staff nurses, relocation workers, and administrative staff worked with the young mother. She was referred for medical and social services and educated about lead and healthy homes issues. The family also received assistance to help them navigate rental agreements and learn to make better choices. After six months, the family moved into an affordable lead-safe home and stayed in touch with social services.

This family’s story demonstrates that the work being done in lead and healthy homes prevention far exceeds the program’s title by making a difference in the lives of children, one family at a time.