State Audit Finds Health Department Fails to Provide Treatment to Children with Lead Poisoning
The state Department of Health has failed to identify and provide treatment for about 90% of children with lead poisoning, possibly allowing "thousands ... to suffer needlessly," according to a new report from the California State Auditor. The Sacramento Bee reports that according to the study, the health department has "failed to meet many of the goals set by the Legislature in 1991" in the wake of a lawsuit settlement regarding lead poisoning, which disproportionately affects children and "interferes with the development of the brain, nervous system and organs." Here are some of the main conclusions of the report:
- While the health department estimates that 38,000 children with lead poisoning require treatment, only 10% "are getting services monitored by the states."
- Despite a 1986 mandate from the Legislature that the health department "measure the extent of lead poisoning," it "has not passed regulations making laboratories report the results of blood tests for lead -- a crucial step for sizing up the problem," the Bee reports.
- The department does not make certain that doctors comply with lead-screening regulations; in addition, it fails to ensure that "programs run by cities and counties follow procedures for handling lead-poisoning cases, and until recently didn't follow up when the local programs failed to submit paperwork."
- The department "lacks authority to get rid of lead hazards," and lacks the necessary staff and funding to meet the Legislature's goals and directives.
The Bee reports that the audit "echoes earlier reports," including a 1999 state auditor study and a report from the not-for-profit Environmental Working Group last year. Bill Walker, a member of that group, said, "It basically says that nothing has changed. This is another case where we're failing to provide services because they appear to be expensive, but the cost is actually far less than the long-term societal cost." Diana Bonta, director of the health department, wrote a response to the auditor's office in which she "agreed with most of the findings" and said she would try to implement the report's recommendations "as available resources permit" (Hill, Sacramento Bee, 5/2). To access the full report, including Bonta's response, go to http://www.bsa.ca.gov/bsa/pdfs/2000013.pdf. Note: You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the report.
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