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Community health center in Elmira hosts lead screenings for children

A new community health clinic in Elmira is now providing lead screenings for children, the first in a series of efforts toimprove access to preventative care.

Valerie Fiore’s a third-year medical student from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM). She’s been lead testing kids at the ACCEL clinic, between two and four years old.

Fiore pricks their finger to take a small blood sample. She makes sure to tell them if it might hurt a bit. She always explains to the children, and their caregivers, what she’s doing and what to expect.

“It's important that you try to build that rapport while you're in the office with them, or the exam room, and try to make them feel as comfortable as possible,” Fiore said. “And, of course, always offer a goodie at the end, like a lollipop.”

The ACCEL clinic is located in the Ernie Davis Community Center at 650 Baldwin St. in Elmira. Many of the parents and children accessing testing are coming from the center’s Head Start program, which provides learning and activities for children from birth to five years old.

Carolyn Corcoran, also a third-year LECOM medical student, said some families don’t necessarily have consistent access to primary or preventative care.

The clinic screens children for elevated blood lead levels, but can also connect them with providers.

“It's nice that we can be that link for them," Corcoran said. "If they do have a high level, we can set them up with a pediatrician. But even if they just are curious about having a provider, that's also something we can set up."

A 2019 community health assessment of Chemung County found elevated lead levels in children under three were more than double the state average.

Kids are especially vulnerable to the risks of lead exposure. Children absorb four times as much lead as adults when exposed to the same source.

Zack Fryda is a medical student in charge of supervising the lead screenings at ACCEL. He said for low-income children, lead exposure is just one of many negative social determinants of health. Elevated lead levels have been shown to hurt development in children.

“So now they have emotional dysregulation, autonomic dysfunctions, behavioral issues. And that’ll last a lifetime, in addition to already being disprivileged by the income level of their family,” Fryda said.

The 2019 community health assessment found a link between poor quality housing and health in Elmira’s low-income neighborhoods. Over 90 percent of Elmira’s housing was built before 1950. The age of housing often affects the risk of lead exposure. The study also found residents of lower-income neighborhoods in Elmira experienced the highest rates of emergency room visits due to asthma and COPD.

Andrea Ogunwumi is the executive director of Elmira’s Economic Opportunity Program, which runs the clinic. She said they’d discussed the idea for a community health center for years. The 2019 assessment helped focus on specific health issues experienced by Elmira residents.

“One area identified was around having safe, affordable housing, and lead levels were high, so we began to work collectively, as a community, to try to address those issues,” Ogunwumi said.

The ACCEL clinic is the result of a grant from Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield. Arnot Health,* the Chemung County Health Department, Common Ground Health, and LECOM all contributed to the project.

Because the ACCEL clinic is in the same building as Head Start programs and after school activities, kids are already coming in and out. That means it’s a bit easier for parents to stop in for a screening.

Ogunwumi said that’s an important part of preventative care; making access as natural, easy and familiar as possible.

“[It’s] in their community, accessible, easy access, no barriers or blockers to get here. And to be in an environment where you feel welcomed, and have an opportunity now to meet some doctors,” Ogunwumi said.

If a child does test high, the team makes a follow-up appointment with a pediatrician. The health center will do screenings every Thursday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Caregivers can call or go online to make appointments.

After lead testing, the clinic will phase in mental health and diabetes screenings for adults in the community.


*Arnot Health is a WSKG underwriter.