Lancaster County’s population continues to grow—according to the 2020 U.S. census, Lancaster County’s population increased 6.5% in the last 10 years. With more than 70% of the county’s homes built before 1978, when lead paint was deemed illegal, many of those older homes pose a potential risk to the county’s growing population.“As health care professionals, we know that the majority of health and wellness happens outside of the hospital,” says Alice Yoder, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health’s executive director of Community Health. “What happens in the home matters, and it is part of our larger organization’s mission—to improve the health and well-being of the communities we serve.”
In partnership with fellow community health leaders, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health oversees a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) every three years. In LG Health’s 2019 assessment, affordable and healthy housing was identified as a concern. Following the assessment, the team developed a Community Health Improvement Plan with strategies to work with the community to help ensure housing for Lancaster County residents was safe—specifically, addressing the presence of lead paint in homes.
Armed with the data from the 2019 CHNA and the desire to make a substantial impact, the Lancaster General Health Board of Trustees approved an investment of $50 million over 10 years to support lead remediation within the community, and thus the Lead-Free Families initiative was born.
The comprehensive program is the first of its kind in the U.S., as it is 100% funded and led by a community health system.
Lead paint was used before the dangers of lead poisoning in children were widely known. Since lead-based paint was more durable than other paint types, it was often used on exterior windows, doors, porches, and window frames. While the houses may have since been painted over, in many of the homes the lead paint was never properly removed or remediated. Today, we know that lead-based paint can cause a number of health concerns for children under the age of 6 and pregnant mothers.
“There is no cure for lead poisoning. Once it’s in your system, you can’t get it out, and the mental and physical effects are irreversible,” says Jeffrey R. Martin, chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at LG Health and member of the statewide Lead Free Promise Project.
Over the next decade, the Lead-Free Families team will identify and remediate lead hazards in at least 2,800 Lancaster County homes and provide education and awareness around the risk of lead exposure to children and pregnant mothers.
Read more at Penn Medicine News.