Med Students Press For "Healthy Homes" Bill

BOSTON, MA, USA – October 16, 2017: Massachusetts State House, an attraction frequently visited by numerous tourists

Photo: Getty Images

BOSTON (State House News Service) - Though housing may not seem like a health issue, students in white coats took to the State House halls on Wednesday to advocate for "healthy homes."

First and third year medical students in Baystate Health's Population-based Urban and Rural Community Health program (PURCH) at UMass Chan Medical School spoke with lawmakers, asking them to sign on to a Reps. Manny Cruz and Shirley Arriga and Sen. John Keenan bill (H 1307 / S 881) that would create a healthy homes program fund.

The fund would distribute grants and loans for residents to make home improvements related to health, such as deleading, improving indoor air quality, or removing carpets that collect dust and lead to increased asthma symptoms.

Incidents of lead poisoning and asthma-related hospitalizations are significantly higher in midsized post-industrial cities, where there are higher populations of low-income residents and people of color, according to the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations.

"There's a lot of individuals out there who work hard day in and day out looking to purchase their first home or find a suitable, safe, quality affordable apartment for them and their loved ones. And right now, simply put, our housing stock doesn't cut it," Arriga said to the UMass Chan students before they went to lobby lawmakers.

Massachusetts has the second oldest housing stock in the nation, with a median home age of 54 years, said MACDC Executive Director Don Bianchi. Over 70 percent of Massachusetts housing was constructed before 1978, when lead paint was banned, he added.

Exposure to lead-based paint, especially for children, can cause brain, nerve and blood damage, behavioral health problems, learning disabilities, seizures, or death, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Arriga spoke about her experience purchasing a home in Chicopee, and discovering that the house she had planned to buy had lead paint in it.

"I have a little one, at the time she was one, and [the previous owner] said 'Just don't let your daughter touch the walls,'" Arriga said.

The healthy homes fund would be set up to receive dollars from federal and state government, quasi-government agencies, nonprofits, private organizations and individuals. Andrea Freeman, policy director of the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, said it could be used to funnel money from civil settlements that have to do with violations of building health codes to people who need to make these repairs.

The focus of the fund would be on addressing lead paint, poor indoor air quality, removing asbestos, mold and pests, but would also divert funds to removing barriers for homeowners to install measures to improve energy or water efficiency, utilize renewable energy, and lower utility costs.

"Sometimes a patient isn't aware or fully educated on their own diagnosis -- they don't know what is triggering their asthma, they just come to the doctor and know that their medicine is now working. But when you go to their home, you'll notice mold in the bathroom ceiling, it's not properly ventilated, and the carpeting needs to be removed or replaced," Rozana Alequin, health homes coordinator at Revitalize CDC told the medical students.

Ryan Marano, a student at UMass Chan, said as a future-health care worker, advocating for the healthy homes bill is important because "we can only do so much supporting our patients inside the clinic."

"There's so much more to do to advocate for the health of our patients, and when we can, be a voice for our patients and lift them up," Marano said.

Written By Sam Drysdale/SHNS

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