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Nurses Step Up in Flint, Michigan, Water Quality Crisis

Written by Rose Torrento on Tuesday, May 24, 2016 Posted in Industry News

Nurses Step Up in Flint, Michigan, Water Quality Crisis

A career in nursing can oftentimes feel exhausting, tedious, and thankless: The shifts are long, patients can be difficult, and there is very little opportunity to receive a pat on the back for taking on such a difficult job. But every now and then, a crisis reminds the world just how vital, skilled, and valuable nurses are. Such was the case last year in Flint, Michigan, when water contamination was discovered. Due to city leaders' decision to save money by switching water sources and overlooking the need for corrosion control, lead began leaking into city water in 2014. Once a local pediatrician exposed the scandal by sharing tests of local children with highly elevated lead levels, city decision-makers went into crisis mode and called on health professionals to step up to the plate. Approximately 150 University of Michigan-Flint nurses volunteered, holding clinics during February and March as well as drawing and testing blood to determine who had been affected by the water contamination. A nursing student involved in the effort, Mat Rowden, told CBS Detroit that this situation has illustrated that "the need for health care, the need for nursing, goes way outside the hospital walls." Lead is an extremely dangerous neurotoxin, of which no level of exposure has been deemed safe. According to a CNN article, the pediatrician who discovered the lead poisoning, Mona Hanna-Attisha, said, "When pediatricians hear anything about lead, we absolutely freak out." She explained that lead poisoning has both cognitive and behavioral effects. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing further details the negative effects of lead exposure, explaining that lead affects both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Studies have shown that lead exposure specifically alters IQ, cognition, attention, memory, learning abilities, and behavior and can be a factor in predicting future tendencies toward delinquency. Fortunately, Flint decision-makers switched back to the city's original Detroit water source soon after discovering the lead poisoning, and steps have been taken to teach the public how to mitigate its effects on their children. One option includes WIC, Double Up Food Bucks, and Head Start programs offering expanded services to accommodate the growing need for healthy food and early academic intervention that could stave off some of the more negative effects of exposure. We want to specifically acknowledge those nurses who helped bring this city closer to a point of health and safety. Without the volunteers who dedicated their time and energy to testing residents, interpreting results, and offering expert guidance, this emergency could have become even more of a tragedy.

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About the Author

Rose Torrento

Rose Torrento

Rosemarie Torrento has worked in health care for more than 26 years, beginning as a registered nurse in 1988. Early in her nursing career, Torrento worked as a freelance contract nurse before accepting a position in nursing administration. During her 17-year tenure in that role, she oversaw nursing employment and travel nurse contracting at a Level 1 Trauma Hospital in Michigan. Understanding the challenges travel nurses faced, Torrento founded Health Providers Choice Inc. (HPC) in 2003. Through Torrento’s extensive experience and her role as President and CEO, HPC provides travel placement of registered nurses and allied health professionals to hospital systems nationally.