The funds for the project are designated to address childhood lead poisoning prevention. The focus of the project is on ensuring blood lead testing and reporting, enhancing blood lead surveillance and improving linkages to recommended services.

Susan Puumala, Ph.D., professor of practice in USD’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program, along with Viviana Deleon, MPH, post-MPH fellow, led the USD School of Health Sciences team, which consists of both MPH and other health science graduate students who, for the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 academic years, have been working to increase lead hazard awareness for South Dakota children and link them to helpful agencies and programs.

Puumala says the partnership created valuable opportunities for the MPH students. “These students have done the training and had the experiences that will help them become public health leaders and advocates,” she explained. “They are involved in many different aspects of applied public health and have an insider’s view that most students don’t get.”

The partnership enhanced the work of a student team, which was named the Community Action Response Epidemiology (CARE) team. Students were incorporated into the project to conduct interviews and blood lead surveillance activities for children aged 6 years and younger. The CARE team was trained on:

  • Conducting telephone interviews with families of children with increased blood lead levels to determine possible lead exposure sources.
  • Educating families about lead hazards, health effects and prevention.
  • Providing case management for children who were exposed to lead, such as monitoring follow-up blood lead testing, engaging with medical providers during follow-up and making referrals to supportive services.

The partnership has enhanced the state’s public health workforce capacity to conduct outreach for lead poisoning prevention while offering USD MPH students the opportunity to learn and practice applied skills. The data collected will continue to increase the program’s ability to focus interventions on geographic areas and populations at higher risk.

“This collaboration with the South Dakota Department of Health has provided students with a real-world application on working in the public health field,” Deleon said. “Not only does this prepare students to enter the future workforce as public health professionals, but their work during the development of this program will leave a positive change in the health and well-being of our community that will resonate for years to come.”

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