Kudos to the Freep’s Keith Matheny for bringing Detroit’s struggle with Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention back to the front page. Matheny does an excellent job of reminding readers of the important role played by public health and building and safety agencies. He mentions other agencies that are involved such as Planning & Development, HUD, Wayne County Prosecutor, State of Michigan, and local non-profits, however, the article fails to zero in on the true causes and potential remedies.
Every year or two, someone provides an update on the City’s progress (or lack thereof), but we rarely witness the investigative tenacity needed to improve circumstances for families affected daily by lead poisoning. Necessarily, the media must explain the importance of the issue – why it’s worth writing about, and Matheny does this well. Regrettably, though, he accepts the opinions of his sources without question:
Budget cuts, expired grants and shifted priorities have decimated the city’s response to child lead poisoning….With the cuts, testing for lead poisoning in children has become more limited. Home investigations after a child tests positive have stopped. And a Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office program to go after landlords with lead-contaminated rental properties has come to a standstill….It is happening as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has lowered the blood-lead levels at which action should be taken to help children. And Congress has slashed the CDC’s lead budget by 93%.
It’s important to know that budgets have been cut, priorities have shifted, home inspections have ceased, the County Prosecutor is at a standstill and landlords have returned to the wild west of lead-slinging, however, the article implies that tough times and a bad economy are chiefly to blame. Such an implication, without further investigative diligence, leads the reader to conclude that restored funding would solve the problem.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Matheny hits the symptoms head on, but what are the real causes of such catastrophic consequences? Why are hundreds more children being poisoned every year in Detroit? Why have the budgets been cut? Why have priorities shifted, and why has Wayne County paid Mary Morrow hundreds of thousands of dollars to prosecuted only one case in more than 4 years? With lead poisoning linked directly to lower IQs, ADHD, and violent crime, why have elected and appointed officials failed to make it a top priority? Anyone who has read this blog or is familiar with the history of Lead Poisoning Prevention in the City of Detroit knows that HUD, the Centers for Disease Control and the State of Michigan funded Detroit’s program. Specifically, all of the agencies conditionally agreed to fully fund the program if control were removed from the Health Department and placed directly under the auspices of the Mayor’s office. No sooner were the positions filled and corrective actions implemented, when the Bing Administration (under Kirk Lewis) caved to the ranting of Prosecutor Mary Morrow.
Asking Prosecutor Morrow, Planning & Development, and others still in positions of leadership in a program that is, by consensus, dysfunctional and “at a standstill” is akin to asking Ronald McDonald for an opinion on childhood obesity. HUD and the Kresge Foundation stopped funding Detroit’s program because the Mayor lied to them (via Kirk Lewis) – not because the economy went south. The Mayor promised to move control of the program out of the Health Department, all stakeholders signed on, and Kirk Lewis moved it back.
Since Morrow’s bullying and incessant childish ranting in July of 2010, the Health Department’s head was fired due to misuse of funds (for paying her daughter in absentia), deputies were released for failing to provide proper management and oversight (Ridella and Smith), and funding from all sources has ceased. If Mr. Matheny is serious about making a difference in this city and with this issue, he should ask HUD Director Matt Ammon, City Medical Director James Blessman, CDC Section Chief Mary Jean Brown, CDC Program Manager Connie Brooks-Thomas, Kresge Foundation Sponsor David Fukizawa, Kresge Foundation Program Manager Pamela Shaheen, and independent Process Consultant D. Kerry Laycock. In other words, ask people that were or are in a position to give authoritative and unbiased assessments in the best interest of public health. Asking those who still hold positions of power in jobs they have clearly failed to perform is not only unreliable, it is dangerous to public wellbeing. Mrs. Peterson should read the articles and history on this blog and be given a few moments alone with Mary Morrow and Dave Bing.