A new public health clinic in Elmira is already providing leading screenings for children, the first in a series of efforts to improve access to preventive care.
Valerie Fiore is a third-year medical student at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM). She was a leader in testing children at the ACCEL clinic, aged between two and four.
Fiore pricked their finger to take a small blood sample. She always tells them if it can hurt a little. She always explains to the children and their care what she is doing and what to expect.
“It’s important to try to build that understanding while you’re in the office with them or in the exam room, and try to make them feel as comfortable as possible,” Fiore said. “And, of course, always offer a treat at the end, like a lollipop.”
The ACCEL Clinic is located in the Ernie Davis Community Center at 650 Baldwin Street in Elmira. Many parents and children who have access to testing come from the Center’s Head Start program, which provides training and activities for children from birth to five.
Carolyn Corcoran, also a third-year medical student at LECOM, said some families do not necessarily have permanent access to primary or preventive care.
The clinic checks children for elevated blood lead levels, but may also contact suppliers.
“It’s good that we can be that connection for them,” Corcoran said. “If they have a high level, we can set them up with a pediatrician. But even if they’re just curious to have a supplier, that’s also something we can set up. “
A 2019 Chemung County Public Health Assessment found that elevated lead levels in children under the age of three were more than twice the national average.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the risks of lead exposure. Children absorb four times more lead than adults when exposed to the same source.
Zack Frieda is a medical student in charge of overseeing ACCEL’s leading screenings. He said that for low-income children, exposure to lead is just one of many negative social determinants of health. Elevated lead levels have been shown to impair children’s development.
“So now they have emotional dysregulation, autonomic dysfunction, behavioral problems. And this will continue for a lifetime, except that they are already deprived of their family’s income level, “said Frieda.
The 2019 Community Health Assessment found a link between low-quality housing and health in low-income neighborhoods in Elmira. More than 90 percent of Elmira’s homes were built before 1950. The age of the homes often affects the risk of lead exposure. The study also found that residents of lower-income neighborhoods in Elmira had the highest rates of emergency room visits due to asthma and COPD.
Andrea Ogunvumi is the executive director of Elmira’s economic opportunities program, which runs the clinic. She said they had been discussing the idea of a public health center for years. The 2019 assessment has helped focus on the specific health problems facing Elmira residents.
“One area identified was the availability of affordable housing and lead levels were high, so we started working collectively as a community to try to solve these problems,” Ogunvumi said.
The ACCEL Clinic is the result of a grant from Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield. Arnot Health, * Chemung County Health Department, Common Ground Health and LECOM contributed to the project.
As the ACCEL clinic is in the same building as the Head Start programs and after school activities, the children are already entering and leaving. This means that it is a little easier for parents to stop by for an examination.
Ogunwumi said this is an important part of preventive care; making access as natural, easy and familiar as possible.
“[It’s] in their community, accessible, easy access, without barriers or obstacles to reach here. And to be in an environment where you feel welcome and to be able to meet some doctors now, “Ogunvumi said.
If the child has a high test, the team makes a follow-up meeting with a pediatrician. The health center will conduct examinations every Thursday from 2 pm to 4 pm. Caregivers can call or go online to make an appointment.
After testing for lead, the clinic will begin screening for mental health and diabetes for adults in the community.
*Arnot Health is an insurer of WSKG.