Public Health Service Strike Team sent to aid Flint residents
A team of specialized officers from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps have traveled to Flint to help conduct medical follow-up visits with children who have tested positive for high lead levels due to the city’s water crisis.
The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal department leading the U.S. government’s support for response efforts in the Flint. The Commissioned Corps is an elite uniformed service with more than 6,700 full-time, highly qualified public health professionals, serving the most underserved and vulnerable populations domestically and abroad.
Fourteen Commissioned Corps officers, with clinical and public health backgrounds, including nursing and mental health deployed within the past week to provide support and answer questions from Flint residents. Two additional officers will join the Public Health Assistance and Support Taskforce this week.
“We are committed to helping meet the physical and mental health needs of children, pregnant women, and others in Flint impacted by lead,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response and a rear admiral in the Commissioned Corps who is heading the federal response to the crisis. “Deploying these officers is one of the many ways we are assisting members of the community so they can begin to recover.”
Officers will also help staff the Genesee County Health Department’s information line, increasing the short-term capacity of the information line, and will work with the county’s staff to develop additional materials needed to answer callers’ questions. Commissioned Corps officers also will help state authorities develop an engagement strategy and materials to reach and educate the community on mitigating the health effects of lead.
“Our goal is to support the families of Flint as they get the care they deserve, and I can think of no better resource to aid in that effort than the talented, trained officers of the U.S. Commissioned Corps,” said Dr. Karen DeSalvo, acting assistant secretary for health, who oversees the Commissioned Corps. “These officers are part of a larger, dedicated federal response, and I am certain they will be an incredible asset to that effort.”
Commissioned Corps officers with behavioral health training will provide support to volunteers participating in community engagement efforts. The officers will develop materials that students can provide while in the community talking with Flint residents.
“The water crisis in Flint is a public health crisis and demands a public health response,” said Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th U.S. Surgeon General, who provides operational command of the Commissioned Corps. “As we have done with natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy and with epidemics like Ebola, the Corps will respond to the situation in Flint in order to provide expert support to the community.”
On January 16, President Barack Obama declared an emergency for Genesee County in the State of Michigan as a result of lead-contaminated water in the city of Flint. The declaration authorizes federal assistance to support the state in its efforts to respond to this crisis.
Federal efforts are focused on helping state and local officials identify the size and scope of the problem caused by high levels of lead in the public water supply and to assist in developing and executing a plan to mitigate the short- and long-term health effects of lead exposure.
The Commissioned Corps is one of the seven uniformed services and is the only service solely committed to protecting, promoting and advancing the health and safety of the nation. Members often serve on the front lines in public health emergency and crisis situations, including 9/11, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the tragic shootings in Roseburg, Oregon and most recently in West Africa treating Ebola patients