Battle against lead poisoning


Southern Connecticut Gas Co., Fairfield University to combat lead poisoning in Bridgeport

The Southern Connecticut Gas Company and the School of Nursing are combining forces to address some of the most important health issues plaguing the residents of Bridgeport.

In a joint announcement, J.R. Crespo, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Southern Connecticut Gas, and the Rev. Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J., University President, said that Southern will provide in excess of $250,000 a year, for 3 years, for programs and health promotional outreach totaling more than $750,000.

Father Kelley commented, "We appreciate the support from Southern and the opportunity for a unique joint effort by Southern and Fairfield in behalf of the children and adults of Bridgeport in combating a major health problem." He added, "The grant from Southern will also enable nursing students to use the knowledge gained in the classroom to provide services to needy children."

"We are extremely pleased to provide this grant to the School of Nursing," said Mr. Crespo. "During the past few years, Southern and the University have worked together on numerous programs. Each has been successful, and has been beneficial to the community. This grant will enable the University to expand and enhance an established and successful program."

Plans call for the University's nursing students to provide health screening for an estimated 3,100 adults, adolescents, school-age children and, primarily, children under age 5. The program is an extension of the James W. Gibson Community Health Care Outreach program which was introduced in 1992 in honor of a former senior executive of Southern who was retiring and who is a graduate of Fairfield University. It has been funded by Southern since that time.

Discussing the grant, Dr. Terry Valiga, dean of the School of Nursing, said, "Lead poisoning has reached epidemic proportions among our nation's urban youth. Currently, 1,865 Bridgeport children are being treated for this insidious health condition. The number of children with lead poisoning is rising by one-third every year, and hundreds more may need medical assistance. The grant from Southern will have multiple benefits; it will target diagnostic, preventive and corrective services to those individuals most in need, and will give our University nursing students the opportunity to combine their classroom and technical skills with community service."

The School of Nursing now operates the Health Promotion Center in Bridgeport at the Cardinal Shehan Center. It is staffed each fall by 50 senior nursing students, in the spring by 50 juniors and in the summer by 25 students who had earned degrees in other fields and returned to college to pursue a degree in nursing.

"Since the inception of the program, our student nurses have provided 19,000 Bridgeport residents with immunizations and screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose as well as health education about diet, sleep, drugs, diabetes and hypertension," said Dr. Dee Cover, assistant professor of nursing and director of the Health Promotion Center.

In coordination with the City of Bridgeport's Department of Health, nursing students will screen children for lead poisoning at a number of locations, including the Shehan Center, schools, churches, housing projects, community centers and at health fairs. They also plan to collaborate with day care centers, Head Start and kindergarten programs, camps and work sites. Literature about various diseases will be prepared in English and Spanish and distributed to area residents.

In addition to testing the children and sending blood samples to laboratories for analysis, the program calls for checking the children's environment, including home, school and neighborhood, to determine how they incurred lead poisoning.

"If the children show signs of lead poisoning or the potential for the disease, we will work to improve their physical condition, their nutrition and their environment," explained Dr. Valiga. "The nursing students, working with a professional environmental assessment coordinator and local residents of the community, will go to the settings in which the children live, attend school and play in order to check for the source of the lead poisoning."

According to Dr. Valiga, lead poisoning may stem from lead in paint, especially when scraped off older buildings or bridges during reconstruction or remodeling, or from industrial emissions.

She added that since lead poisoning is one of the most pervasive environmental diseases among children, especially in urban areas, the School of Nursing is pleased to have the opportunity to conduct this program in collaboration with the City of Bridgeport and with the support of the Southern Connecticut Gas Company.

Dr. Valiga said the School of Nursing appreciates the Health Department's assistance. "We are pleased to complement the Department by providing 50 nursing students who are volunteering their time in behalf of residents of Bridgeport."

Bookmark and Share

Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on September 1, 1996