Herkimer HealthNet is working to make sure more children in Oneida and Herkimer counties get tested for elevated blood lead levels.
“By New York state law, children need to be screened for lead poisoning at age 1 and age 2, said HealthNet Executive Director Thomas Curnow. “We know that although there is screening going on, about a third of the kids, if you look up both Oneida County and Herkimer County, aren’t screened.”
Excellus BlueCross BlueShield has given the nonprofit a two-year $50,571 grant to buy testing equipment for up to seven still-to-be-chosen health care offices.
“So the idea of this grant is that it allows point-of-care screening right in the doctor’s office so that the physicians can talk to the parent about the results of that testing at the time of the office visit,” Curnow said.
At 3.14 percent, Oneida County has the highest rate of children with elevated blood levels in the state, according to the New York State Department of Health. HealthNet is a member of the Lead-Free Mohawk Valley Coalition, a group working to eliminate incidence of blood lead poisoning in both counties.
The coalition is working on primary prevention, which means getting rid of lead hazards — primarily lead paint — so kids don’t end up with elevated blood lead levels, said John Monaghan, the foundation’s director of strategic initiatives and coalition leader. But that’s not enough, he said.
“Secondary prevention is sort of trying to tackle the problem saying if and when children are exposed to lead … how do you find out which children have that elevated blood level and bring it down?” Monaghan said. “Right now, one of our challenges is that while testing rates are increasing in the counties … we want to find a way to get them up faster recognizing that primary prevention takes a lot of time and effort and money. So, we also don’t want to just wait for those children who might have been exposed and not do anything to address their issues and concerns.”
When doctors ask parents to have their children’s blood tested for lead, it usually means a trip to a lab with a phlebotomist for a blood draw, and many families — whether through constraints of time, distance, transportation or lack of understanding of the importance — don’t make it, Monaghan said.
The LeadCare II Blood Level Testing Systems equipment to be purchased doesn’t rely on a full blood draw, just a pinprick, Monaghan said. Its results are not as precise as a formal test that extracts a vial of blood, but it does show which children have elevated levels and should get the more precise test as well, he said.
“Addressing lead screening in children is critical to a child’s success in life,” said Eve Van De Wal, president of Excellus’ Utica Region, in a news release. “Early detection helps to minimize the impact of lead poisoning thereby lessening the long-term impact of this major community challenge.”
The money came through Excellus’ Community and Member Health Improvement grant program. The grant also will pay for initial supplies and a marketing campaign to raise awareness.
“Oneida County Health Department through our lead poisoning prevention program, our Healthy Neighborhoods program and various community health initiatives works with families and health care providers in the county to educate on the importance of the mandatory testing of children at age 1 and 2,” said department Director Phyllis Ellis. “We also work with our community partners to collaborate on programs and initiatives that could enhance the rates for our children.”