City Report Finds Health Dept. Problems
Records missing for 30 homes with lead problems. Funding, staff reductions an issue.
A 50-page report from the City of Milwaukee Health Department examines the city’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. Released Thursday afternoon, the report gives a frank assessment of the successes and challenges of the program that the department itself bills as “deficient.”
Buried on page 31 of the report is the admission that from 2015 to 2017, of the 32 children that received chelation therapy, a special medical procedure for those that record dangerous blood lead levels of 45 micrograms per deciliter or above, two were released to homes that were never investigated or abated. Remediation steps have since been taken by the department.
Of the 320 homes that were supposed to have received an environmental investigation during that period to determine the source of lead, the city has so far found no records that 30 of them were ever investigated. Even in cases where an electronic record exists, 119 homes lack a paper record that an assessment was initiated. The report notes that this portion of the investigation is still ongoing. Mayor Tom Barrett said that the primary belief is that this is a matter of “inadequate documentation.” Investigations are required by the state when blood lead levels are recorded at 20 micrograms per deciliter or above.
An audit of the 519 cases of children testing positive for elevated blood lead levels of 20 micrograms per deciliter or above from 2015 to 2017 found 26 cases that the department flagged for additional follow-up. Action on those cases is underway.
The report comes after Barrett made the announcement January 12th that Health Commissioner Bevan K. Baker resigned and that his administration had recently become aware of serious issues with the program. The city has sent over 6,000 letters to potentially affected families, with 134 calls from families and 47 clinic visits occurring as a result. The Common Council opened an investigation into the matter and held a four-hour-long hearing on January 17th. A subsequent hearing on the matter is expected later this week.
The city receives approximately 3,000 annual cases from health care providers that show blood lead levels above five micrograms per deciliter in Milwaukee children. Lead in the bloodstream can affect the development of the brain and nervous system. Children under the age of six and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable.
The report indicates the city has made great strides in reducing the number of children testing positive for elevated blood lead levels, dropping from 31.9 percent of tested children under six years of age having a level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or above in 1997 to 3.3 percent in 2017. However, the report shows that progress has basically been flat since 2013. During this period of stagnation, the number of full-time employees assigned to the program has been cut nearly in half to 20 due to a decline in funding.
Funding for the program, much of which comes from federal and state grants, has declined substantially in recent years. Barrett said the program had a budget of approximately $6 million in 2009, while the 2018 budget is barely over $3 million, largely due to less money received in federal grants, and declining shared revenue from the state. Barrett said the city must now grapple with its severely constrained revenue sources to find ways to fund the program locally if grant funding levels don’t increase.
The report recommends a series of program improvements ranging from implementing a new records system and creating a frequent audit schedule to filling open positions, modifying job descriptions and streamlining the chain of command in the Health Department. The report recommends a number of changes to how the program itself is administered.
A series of graphs and charts in the report show that elevated blood lead levels are most commonly found in the city’s most impoverished zip codes, including 53205, 53206, 53208, 53210, 53212 and 53215. Those zip codes include many of the city’s oldest homes, most of which were at some point painted with lead paint and also have lead laterals.
At a Monday evening press conference, Barrett acknowledged that a personnel investigation is still underway. He said “there have been some percussions,” before declining to comment further, citing the advice of the City Attorney’s office.
At the press conference, the mayor pledged to continue to inform the public “as quickly as possible,” as more information becomes available.
The report was submitted to the Mayor and Common Council Monday by Health Department Director of Disease Control and Environmental Health Angela Hagy.
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More about the Lead Service Lines
- Common Council approves full lead hazard review for city-owned properties - Ald. Jose Perez - May 8th, 2018
- Legislation mandates lead water lines replacement at child care facilities - Ald. Milele Coggs - Apr 26th, 2018
- Child Care Centers Still Have Lead Pipes - Edgar Mendez - Apr 23rd, 2018
- Legislation looks to local source for water infrastructure needs - Ald. Milele Coggs - Apr 4th, 2018
- ‘10thirtysix ’ to re-ring the alarm bell on milwaukee’s lead crisis - Milwaukee PBS - Mar 27th, 2018
- Chief of Staff Comment on FLAC - Patrick Curley - Mar 22nd, 2018
- Evers Demands Action on Wisconsin’s Drinking Water Crisis - Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers - Mar 21st, 2018
- Op Ed: How City Should Solve Lead in Water - Noelle Chesley, Anne Dressel, John Berges, and Helen Meier - Mar 2nd, 2018
- Alderman Bohl: A better strategy is needed in dealing with lead laterals - Ald. Jim Bohl - Feb 26th, 2018
- City Hall: McManus Lays Out Three Priorities for Health Department - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 23rd, 2018
- Governor Walker Signs Leading on Lead Act into Law - Gov. Scott Walker - Feb 21st, 2018
- City Hall: Mayor Allows Interim Health Leader - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 15th, 2018
- City Hall: Will Mayor Confirm Health Commissioner? - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 14th, 2018
- City Hall: HUD Halts City Lead Treatment Program - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 12th, 2018
- From Dr. Patricia McManus: Comments clarified - Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton - Feb 9th, 2018
- Comments by newly appointed interim Health Department commissioner troubling - Ald. Michael Murphy - Feb 9th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Appoints McManus Interim Health Leader - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 6th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Withdraws Nannis Nomination - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 5th, 2018
- FLAC Calls on Common Council to Confirm Dr. Patricia McManus as Interim Health Commissioner - Freshwater For Life Action Coalition - Feb 3rd, 2018
- Silence is Complicity – If You See Something, Please Say Something - Ald. Milele Coggs - Feb 2nd, 2018
- Gag Order for Health Department Employees Lifted by Mayor - Ald. Bob Donovan - Feb 1st, 2018
- Resolution Aims to Take Down Milwaukee Health Department’s Restrictive Communication Policy - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Feb 1st, 2018
- Common Council Alerts At-Risk Populations of Lead Risks After City of Milwaukee Health Department Fails to Notify Public - Milwaukee Common Council - Jan 31st, 2018
- Key Details Missing from the Mayor’s Account of Lead Testing Crisis - Ald. Khalif Rainey - Jan 31st, 2018
- What We Really Need: Answers - Ald. Russell Stamper, II - Jan 31st, 2018
- The Administration has Lost the Common Council’s Confidence in Addressing the Lead Issue - Ald. Jose Perez - Jan 30th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Report Finds Health Dept. Problems - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 30th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Could Reject Interim Health Leader - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 30th, 2018
- Aldermen Ask City Attorney for Legality of Paul Nannis’ position - Milwaukee Common Council - Jan 29th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: $750 Million to Replace Lead Pipes - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 24th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Responds to Lead Crisis - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 23rd, 2018
- Legislation seeks lead service line replacement for city-owned properties - Ald. Bob Bauman - Jan 19th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Grills Mayor, City Health Staff - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 17th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Launches Health Dept. Probe - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 17th, 2018
- Resolution calls for Milwaukee Water to give public lead updates - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Jan 17th, 2018
- Commissioner Baker’s departure leaves us all with many, many questions - Ald. Bob Donovan - Jan 16th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Ousts Bevan Baker Over Lead Fiasco - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 12th, 2018
- Health Department mistakes worsen city’s lead crisis - Ald. Mark Borkowski - Jan 12th, 2018
- Council set to act on Health Department crisis - Milwaukee Common Council - Jan 12th, 2018
- Freshwater For Life Action Coalition (FLAC) to Hold Press Conference After Announcement Of Firing Health Commissioner Bevan Baker - Freshwater For Life Action Coalition - Jan 12th, 2018
- Is City Dragging Feet on Lead Filters? - Jabril Faraj and Elliot Hughes - Jan 3rd, 2018
- Common Council Strengthens Lead Standards - Jabril Faraj - Dec 5th, 2017
- One Step Closer to Tackling Wisconsin’s Lead Crisis - State Sen. Chris Larson - Oct 31st, 2017
- Advocates Push City On Lead Pipes - Jabril Faraj - Oct 25th, 2017
- Lead Poisoning a “Public Health Crisis” - Jabril Faraj - Jul 19th, 2017
- National Water Expert Retracts Criticism of City Health Department - City of Milwaukee Health Department - Jul 14th, 2017
- Governor Walker Announces 35 Municipalities to Receive a Total of $13.8 Million to Remove Lead Service Lines - Gov. Scott Walker - Jun 28th, 2017
- Campaign Cash: WMC Opposes Lead Pipes Bill - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Apr 20th, 2017
- Op Ed: State Action Needed on Lead Pipes Problem - Chris Walker - Mar 12th, 2017
- Murphy’s Law: How Milwaukee Handled “Flint” Crisis - Bruce Murphy - Jan 19th, 2017
- Tainted Water: State’s Failures On Lead Pipes - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Jan 15th, 2017
- Tainted Water: Lax Rules Expose Kids To Lead-Tainted Water - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Dec 19th, 2016
- Tainted Water: DNR Program Replaces Lead Laterals - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Dec 19th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Approves Help For Lead Pipes - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 13th, 2016
- Tainted Water: DNR Delays on Lead Poisoning Issue - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Dec 4th, 2016