Surgeon general hears from Flint residents
Flint — U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy was in Flint on Tuesday to hear from residents, who shared stories of dealing with the lead contamination crisis.
“I hear over and over from the people and folks here is that they are angry over what has happened to them, but they are motivated to be a part of things to make it better,” Murthy said.
Murthy said he has heard reports of scammers taking advantage of residents over the crisis and wanted to provide information on where to find helpful information and take part in relief efforts.
“It helps me to hear from folks firsthand to see what they have been through, that way I can take back what I’ve learned to better help aid efforts to address their needs,” Murthy said, adding his focus was to connect health care providers to community support networks, including “wrap-around” services such as help for trauma and stress associated with the tainted water issue.
“A lot of help is on the way but it’s not enough,” he said. “We have to get Flint back to a place where we can say the water coming out faucet is clean and safe.”
A long line queued up for public comments as members of the community shared their stories. About 100 people attended the event at Mount Carmel Baptist Church, including representatives from Hurley Medical Center and the Genesee County Children’s Healthcare Access Program as well as several pediatricians.
“What I have heard here tonight are stories of anger and pain but also of resilience and strength,” Murthy said.
Pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha of the Hurley Medical Center in Flint spoke briefly about the need for Medicaid expansion and nutrition classes for children.
Speaking to worries that the story of Flint will fade, Hanna-Attisha said the surgeon general “came because he cared.”
“He will go back to Washington and advocate for us,” said the doctor, who is credited with identifying elevated lead levels in children as the crisis emerged.
Murthy discussed topics ranging from ready-to-feed baby formula, who needs to stick to drinking bottled water and the worry about where to receive accurate information about help available.
“Many people I’ve spoken with from the houses I’ve visited say they don’t have reliable sources of information, whether it’s about water, whether it’s about filters, and other health-related issues,” Murthy said.
Activist Art Reyes of Flint Rising moved backed to Flint after hearing what was happening in the city. Reyes, who works with national community organizing groups, started Flint Rising to “train organizers for a living.”
“When I saw all this happening, I knew it was time to come home and help,” he said.
Reyes said the bigger challenge is organizing local people.
“We have knocked on about 7,000 doors to see what help people need,” he said. “The first thing is identifying people’s emergency needs and get them the help they need.”
Another activist, lifelong Flint resident Tony Palladino, 54, was skeptical about Murthy’s visit.
“ ... We see these guys coming out of the woodwork — a lot of political powers are coming out and telling us things ...,” Palladino said. “... I hope they talk about the elderly. I understand there is a big push for the children, but we’ve been sitting here sick and I’m wondering how much longer I’m going to be here. I want them to say that the whole city is going to get the help we need.”