From the Field: A Story of the Work of Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance and Our Partners
Written by Alex McKeone, UNO Student Writing Intern
Mr. Johnson’s seventy-one years have been spent facing many challenges and hardships. He still lives in the same house his single-parent mother bought fifty-seven years ago, the walls and rooms constant reminders of the struggles she faced raising him and his brothers on her own. At the age of sixteen, after bidding a tearful farewell to his mother and his childhood home, he joined the United Sates Air Force. After serving two tours, he returned to North Omaha to start a life of his own.
Now, some fifty years later, he has a grown son and two grandchildren, whose smiling faces make the difficulties he has faced over the years seem worthwhile. Just as he was preparing to relax back into his twilight years and enjoy the company of his grandchildren, his son came to him with some difficult news. With the safety of his own children in mind, he informed his father that they would no longer be coming over to visit. Mr. Johnson’s home, the home where he had spent his childhood and raised his son, was no longer a safe place for children. Nor was it a safe place for him.
Through the Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance’s program, Get the Lead Out!, we are able to meet with Omaha residents in their homes to assess and resolve any lead hazards they may be living with. When we pulled up to Mr. Johnson's house last October to conduct a risk assessment, we immediately knew that he was in dire need of assistance. The exterior was badly deteriorated and strips of dry, brittle paint were peeling off in ribbons.
It wasn’t until we sent our risk assessor into Mr. Johnson’s home that we realized the true extent of the problems. The front porch was coated in lead-based paint from floor to ceiling. Lead-based paint had been used throughout the home. The bathroom walls as well as surface of the antique claw-foot bathtub that Mr. Johnson bathed in daily were also covered in flaking, lead-based paint.
The cabinet in the lead-contaminated bathroom contained prescription medications for headaches, stomach pain, and dizziness, as well as for a serious heart condition, all of which are signs, symptoms and direct results of breathing in significant amounts of lead dust on a daily basis. Mr. Johnson had been pouring money into these and other medications as well countless doctors' visits, when the true problem had been the home in which he had spent so many years of his life. With each day that passed, Mr. Johnson’s health was growing progressively worse.
Luckily, through the Get The Lead Out! program, the Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance was able to recognize the severity of the hazards in and around Mr. Johnson’s home and provide him with the help he desperately needed. We not only addressed the problems immediately affecting Mr. Johnson’s health and the safety of his grandchildren, we also referred him to Rebuilding Together. They provided him with a new roof and gutters, new cabinets, a new sink, new plumbing, and repairs to the ceiling. In addition, Rebuilding Together recruited volunteers from Benson High School's Latino Leaders to clean out the clutter that had accumulated in the home and collaborated with the City of Omaha’s Handyman program to install handrails on the stairs. With the help and education provided by OHKA and our community partners, Mr. Johnson has now dedicated himself to maintaining a lead-safe and healthy home for himself and for the safety his grandchildren, who are now able to visit him again.