The School of Nursing and Health Studies was chosen to be the academic home for the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, earlier this month.
The center will act as a Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit for Washington, D.C., Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. These units address environmentally related pediatric health issues using a variety of methods, including increased education and consultations for professionals and the public. The units were created in response to events in the 1990s when physicians around the country were unable to diagnose poisoning from mercury vapor and pesticide exposure.
The new PEHSU at Georgetown is one of 10 centers across the country. Additionally, there are two PEHSUs in Canada and Mexico.
Before its relocation to Georgetown, the region’s PEHSU was housed at the Children’s National Medical Center, which is affiliated with The George Washington University.
NHS associate professor Laura Anderko, who serves as the Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Chair in Values-Based Health Care, will act as the head of the pediatric center and has received $700,000 in funding from the CDC to be used over the next five years.
Anderko explained the types of pediatric health issues that the Mid-Atlantic Center will deal with, including several harmful environmental factors that affect children in the area.
“There are thousands of chemicals and other environmental exposures that can be harmful to children, but some of the more common exposures in the Region 3 area include lead poisoning from exposures within homes and schools, pesticide poisoning and environmental health impacts as a result of climate change, such as poor air quality and asthma,” Anderko wrote in an email.
Anderko currently serves as an associate professor in epidemiology and public and environmental health. She was also named a White House Champion of Change in 2013 for her work regarding climate-related health effects and has served on the Environmental Protection Agency’s federal advisory committee.
Georgetown University Medical Center Executive Vice President Howard J. Federoff said that the NHS is well equipped to handle the program.
“This is a critical program designed to protect the health of our children. The School of Nursing and Health Studies and Dr. Anderko have a successful track record of taking the latest scientific knowledge to the community to protect those who are most vulnerable,” Federoff wrote in an email. “The CDC has recognized that and has selected Georgetown to lead this important regional effort.”
In recent years, the NHS has made several additions to expand its offerings regarding environmental health. The undergraduate minor in environmental and occupational health was introduced a few years ago, and this fall, the NHS launched a graduate-level certificate in the field.
Additionally, the university has made the issue a campus-wide priority with the launch of the Georgetown Environment Initiative after receiving an anonymous $20 million donation in 2012, which the school used to hire new faculty members.
Interim NHS Dean Patricia Cloonan commented on how the Georgetown PEHSU provides NHS students with new opportunities to explore environmental health issues.
“We have been creating meaningful inter-professional educational opportunities for our students at NHS and medical students. An environmental effort focused on children’s health seems like a good place to expand this collaborative work and engage students across the health professions,” Cloonan wrote in an email.
According to Cloonan, the PEHSU will contribute to the university’s Jesuit values.
“The School of Nursing and Health Studies has a long tradition, reflecting this university’s Catholic, Jesuit identity, of advancing the health and well-being of individuals and communities with a special emphasis on the underserved and vulnerable. Having a center that seeks to minimize the health burden kids face due to environmental risks is a perfect fit for this longstanding commitment,” Cloonan wrote.
Hoya Staff Writer Lucy Pash contributed reporting.