September 17, 2021
Three-year-old Levi Miller races around his grandma’s house, proudly hoisting his Black Panther action figure above his head as he zips from the living room to the dining room and kitchen, and then back around for another lap before diving into his toy box to find Captain America.
Kelly Key can’t contain her smile as she chases after her superhero-loving son and wraps him in her arms with a big bear hug—prompting laughs from Levi’s grandparents, Mary and Skip Hogentogler.
As the sun beams through the 92-year-old brick duplex Columbia home on a sweltering July day, it’s not the summer heat that fills the room with warmth, but the love of family.
Testing for Lead in Levi’s Room
And it’s that love that prompted the Hogentoglers to sign up for Lead-Free Families, the new program recently launched by Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health to identify and remediate lead hazards in Lancaster County homes. Lead exposure and poisoning is a significant health issue among children in Lancaster County, with blood lead levels here among the highest in the state.
“I was appalled when they tested Levi’s room and they found lead in the paint chips in the windows,” Mary says. “We never even thought about lead in the house when we bought it.”
Mary and Skip bought the home together seven years ago, shortly after the childhood sweethearts and Columbia High School Class of 1982 graduates reunited and married. Kelly and Levi moved in a few months ago, making the removal of the lead in the house more than just important. It’s now necessary to protect Levi.
Protecting Kids Like Levi
It’s kids like Levi who Lancaster General Health wants to protect. Lead is present in most homes built before 1978. The Hogentoglers’ house was built around 1930, nearly a half-century before federal standards required lead-free materials to be used in building construction.
It’s estimated that some 91,000 homes in the county have lead-based paint. About 45 percent of households in the county have a child under the age of 6 or a pregnant woman residing, posing health risks to moms-to-be and children.
The Effects of Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning can lead to permanent health problems, developmental delays, learning and behavior problems, hearing and speech problems, lower IQ and an increased risk of criminal behavior. By contrast, removing lead from homes can result in improved academic outcomes, lower education costs, better lifetime earning potential and reduced risk of criminal behavior.
That’s why Lead-Free Families will identify and remediate lead hazards in at least 2,500 Lancaster County homes over the next 10 years, while also providing community education and temporary housing and support services for families during remediation.
Committed to a Healthier Lancaster County
“We’re committed to making Lancaster County a healthier place to live, work and play,” says Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health CEO John J. Herman. “Lead-Free Families is an historic $50 million investment by our health system, because we recognize that healthcare goes far beyond the walls of our hospital and doctor’s offices. Where we live and how we live matters to our health. We want to help make home healthy for Lancaster County kids and families.”
Lead-Free Families is the first comprehensive lead-free homes initiative in the U.S. to be 100-percent funded and led by a health system.
That fact is not lost on Mary, whose eyes lock on little Levi as he plays with his superhero action figures. A smile comes over her.
“It’s such a relief that we’re getting the lead removed from our house. I’m just really grateful to Lancaster General Health for what they’re doing,” Mary says. “It shows that they really are caring for us and caring for our community.”
To apply for the Lead-Free Families program, or for more information, visit LeadFreeFamilies.org.
Partnering to Get the Lead Out
Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health’s Lead-Free Families program is a countywide initiative that also works collaboratively with the City of Lancaster and its Lead-Safe Lancaster initiative. The two programs work together on health education and the promotion of healthy housing in Lancaster.
Partnerships such as this and the Lancaster County Lead Coalition, of which LG Health is a founding member, are aimed at fostering a safer and healthier Lancaster City and County.
This article was first published in the Fall 2021 edition of Fig Lancaster.