Individuals often equate health as a personal concern: your health is based on you. However, public health not only recognizes the fallacy in this thinking, but also the dangers of having such a narrow focus on health. Health is more than a single person: it is the community at large. It includes the environment in which we live and work, our social interactions and norms, economic factors such as income and employment, and access to services and goods. The importance of both individual and community health can be seen in the efforts of the Peoria City/County Health Department to reduce lead poisoning.
Peoria County is home to some of the nation’s highest-risk zip codes regarding lead poisoning. Primarily found within the City of Peoria, these areas have older and deteriorating housing stock, which creates a higher risk of exposure to lead-based paints. Children are at the greatest risk for lead poisoning, and the effects will have a lasting impact on their lives.
The most significant exposure and health-related consequences of lead occur during early childhood development, when children are more likely to ingest lead. This can adversely affect their developing nervous systems, posing dangers to learning capacity and behavioral growth. While the standard of healthcare requires routine screening and testing of children, little can be done to eliminate continued lead exposure without addressing community health—and specifically, housing.
Lead Hazard Control Grant
This past October, the Peoria City/County Health Department was awarded the Lead Hazard Control Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This $5.6 million grant will directly reduce the rates of lead poisoning over the next 42 months by targeting lead and other health hazards in low-income homes within Peoria County. While the primary goal of the funding is to improve 380 housing units, the impact is far greater than lead hazard reduction: it includes enhancing our community’s housing stock and workforce development.
The grant funds are made available to eligible properties and property owners, including families with incomes below the area’s median income and landlords agreeing to provide updated units to these families—specifically those with children under the age of six. By focusing funds on these units, the Peoria City/County Health Department is hoping to increase access to affordable and habitable homes.
During the recent Community Health Needs Assessment and Improvement Plan, the Partnership for a Healthy Community (our region’s tri-county community health initiative) found that lack of housing was a significant risk factor for a variety of health concerns, including mental health and substance use. In addition to providing lead hazard funding, the Health Department will utilize grant funding to address other home hazards such as air quality, temperature control and lighting—all of which improve respiratory health and community safety.
The Lead Hazard Control Grant will also bring workforce development through the recruitment and training of contractors in lead-safe practices. Over 75 percent of the funds will go directly to approved contractors, with an emphasis on building local capacity. By creating a trained workforce, the grant provides economic opportunities that can increase and improve our community health.
By recognizing and implementing strategies that address both an individual’s and community’s health, we can move towards our vision of the Peoria City/County Health Department as a trusted leader in a healthy, thriving community. PM
Monica Hendrickson, MPH, is public health administrator for the Peoria City/County Health Department.