Hurley docs accused of minimizing lead impact in Flint - WNEM TV 5

Hurley docs accused of minimizing lead impact in Flint

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Officials in Flint are accusing doctors at Hurley Medical Center of minimizing the impact of the water crisis on children.

The doctors reportedly decided to stop referring to children effected by the water crisis as "lead-poisoned," opting to use the term "lead-exposed” instead.

"Because what's your definition of poison? What, I didn't die," Mayor Karen Weaver said.

She said the statement only serves to minimize and mislead the public.

"We know that this community ingested lead contaminated water for almost two years before anything was done about it," Weaver said.

Weaver, along with Chief Public Health Advisor, Dr. Pamela Pugh, issued the following statements Wednesday after reviewing reports about a recent vote by doctors at Hurley Medical Center. 

Pugh said the action appears to be purposefully misleading: 

“Hearing that Hurley doctors are attempting to minimize damages when it comes to the lives of residents’ concerns me.  That kind of behavior is disrespectful to our community and unbelievably insensitive to what we have endured over the past four years. When I speak out about Flint, know that I am not ‘just’ the Mayor of a city who had an “unfortunate thing” happen. I am a resident, whose family and trust has been compromised too. I am a resident who waited in line for bottled water, and who has been nervous about what comes out of my tap. As a licensed psychologist, I don’t have to imagine the toll, the stress and anxiety, residents continue to experience due to this water crisis. Many still struggle to make the best decisions for their families each and every day due to the uncertainties as it relates to the long term effects of lead in the water they and their children have consumed. I am personally offended by the decision a few Hurley doctors have made, because it minimizes the tragedy that Flint residents have experienced, through no fault of our own.”

“As a public health professional who has advocated for the elimination of childhood lead poisoning for years, I am fascinated by this sudden call to shift the focus to Michigan communities other than Flint,” added Dr. Pamela Pugh. “This action by the doctors at Hurley appears to be purposefully misleading, or an attempt to detract attention from the decades of credible data that substantiates that there is absolutely no safe level of lead for children anywhere.”

Both City officials agree that Flint children, and adults for that matter, are indeed resilient and there will continue to be a concerted effort to support their development.

“But this does not negate the fact that children drank water poisoned with lead,” said Pugh. “This entire community, parents especially, will have to work extra hard and use disproportionate resources, in comparison to other communities to mitigate the impact of exposure to lead-tainted water.”

Hurley said it was important for doctors to distinguish children as “lead-exposed” rather than “lead-poisoned” due to people believing they will have lower IQs and a propensity for criminal behavior.

“The doctors do not want this stigma for the children of Flint,” a release from the hospital said.

Hurley Dr. Hernan Gomez said the reason for the decision is because not a single child in the city had been poisoned from the water switch. He said the lead they were exposed to was not high enough to be considered poison.

"To use the word poisoning, what we are saying is that means that kids will have lower IQs, increased criminal behavior, which is reinforcing stereotypes which we believe is unfair and unjust," Gomez said.

Both Weaver and Pugh said this is not what the medical community should be focusing on. Pugh said no matter what you call what happened to Flint residents, everyone needs to work on getting better and moving forward.

"This shouldn't be where we're spending our time. We're in a time now where we know what happened already. It's been documented. You want to move forward and make sure that the children and the residents of Flint get everything they need to move on," Pugh said.

Gomez said they are not disputing what has happened in Flint. He said he would have been just as angry if it happened where he lived. He said doctors were just defining poison medically and correctly.

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