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Virtua Health Provides Lead Screenings to Protect N.J.’s Youngest Residents

May 28, 2024 - Mobile Unit Makes Impact in Under-Resourced Neighborhoods

May 28, 2024

Lead contamination has been in the news frequently—from lead contaminated applesauce sold at discount stores to lead contamination found at a Trenton, NJ, school. And that’s because lead is all around us. It’s in our environment—soil, water, dust. It’s in our food and our drinking water from lead pipes and fixtures. It’s in our homes—especially in houses built before 1976. It’s in lead-based paint, old furniture, pottery, glassware, beauty products, children’s toys, and even some candy.

Lead is everywhere, and Virtua Health wants to protect its community – most notably children – through education, testing, and medical care. 

“Lead contamination has been an issue for a very long time, particularly in underserved communities. Fourteen percent of children living in communities that lack accessible healthcare services have elevated lead levels, compared to 2.5% nationally,” explained Maria Emerson, Virtua’s director of pediatric rehabilitation services. “Virtua’s Pediatric Mobile Services brings these necessary medical screening and services, at no charge, to the children who need them most. There is much we can do to reduce the risk of lead poisoning for these children.”

Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body over a period of months or years. There is no safe level of lead in children. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems, especially in children under the age of six. Lead can disrupt the normal growth and development of a child’s brain and central nervous system, causing irreversible damage.

Early detection and intervention can prevent long-term health complications associated with lead poisoning.

Symptoms of lead poisoning in children can include behavioral problems and trouble concentrating, headaches, loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea and vomiting, constipation, feeling tired, muscle and joint weakness, paleness, and a metallic taste in the mouth.

Virtua’s Pediatric Mobile Services team provides lead screenings to children. Licensed medical professionals obtain a small blood sample from a finger prick, which is analyzed in three minutes. If the test shows lead levels above 5mcg/dL, follow-up tests are needed. These tests are performed by a physician or laboratory and an investigation for lead hazards may be conducted at the child’s home and environments the child frequently visits.

Additionally, Virtua will present its Good Food to Grow Program, which teaches children about healthy eating. Each child will receive a bag of fruits and vegetables to take home. Good nutrition, especially Vitamin C, iron, and calcium in the diet, can reduce the amount of lead absorbed by children’s bodies.

Advancing Health Equity
Many people don’t have access to health services, screenings, and vital tests. Obstacles, such as lack of transportation, scheduling conflicts due to job demands, childcare, and language barriers often prevent people from seeking important health screenings.

Virtua’s fleet of mobile health vehicles brings services to those who need it most. Virtua’s Pediatric Mobile Services Unit provides a multitude of health services—including lead and dental screenings, developmental screenings, flu shots, back-to-school physicals, vaccinations, vision and hearing screenings, community resources and referrals to specialized services to children living in underserved neighborhoods in Camden, Gloucester, and Burlington counties. The program has bilingual staff, including speakers of Spanish and Portuguese.

Fueled by Philanthropy
Thanks to a grant from the Frank S. Flowers Charitable Trust, Virtua purchased the lead testing kits necessary to conduct the lead screenings. Mr. Flowers, a resident of Woodbury, NJ, before his death in 1979, established a trust providing grants to educational, youth, health-related, and religious organizations located in Gloucester County.

The Virtua Pediatric Mobile Services program is funded by several generous donors, including individuals, businesses, and foundations. In November 2023, the Joseph Lacroce Foundation donated $1 million in support of a second mobile unit, which will begin operations in June 2024.