November 2, 2008

Maria Ramos Receives Award

East Harlem - October 29, 2008 - Maria Ramos an East Harlem activist and health literacy professional received the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation press release (below) says it all.

Press Release

PRINCETON, NJ (October 27, 2008) – The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation today announced Maria Ramos, a longtime health literacy activist in impoverished New York City communities, as one of ten exemplary Americans who will receive the Community Health Leaders Award for 2008. The distinguished annual award honors extraordinary men and women from all over the country who conquer huge obstacles and take commanding action in local communities to tackle some of the most challenging health and health care problems facing the nation. Awardees are celebrated with national recognition and $125,000.

This year, more than 800 nominations were submitted from across the United States. Through a rigorous process, the Foundation selected ten outstanding individuals, all of whom have worked to improve health conditions in their communities through exceptional creativity, courage and commitment. The Foundation chose Ramos this year for her leadership in developing an initiative to provide free health screenings for hundreds of disadvantaged taxi and limousine drivers in the South Bronx and East Harlem communities. Ramos will accept her award on October 29 at a special ceremony honoring each of the 2008 recipients during the Community Health Leaders Annual Meeting in San Diego.

"Maria Ramos' commitment to her community drives her out-of-the-box thinking that all communities need to adapt to meet constantly evolving challenges," said Janice Ford Griffin, national program director for the award. "Maria is tenacious in her efforts to figure out what will work and how to make it happen."

Through the Taxi/Limousine Drivers Health Initiative, Ramos deploys staff members to 70 taxi bases daily to deliver crucial health services to hundreds of drivers. Using dispatch radios, staff members announce services that are available on-location for that day. The individuals conduct health screenings, including glucose, blood pressure and prostate, breast and colon cancer; administer flu shots; schedule medical appointments and assist drivers with enrolling in health insurance plans. They also educate drivers about chronic illnesses such as asthma, cancer and heart disease. In an effort to limit drivers’ time off the road, Ramos’ "express care" system delivers all services within an hour.

Ramos’ work addresses the health care needs and improves health outcomes for many taxi drivers who suffer from poor circulation and other medical conditions as a result of the sedentary nature of their work. Some fear pursuing health services that they are unfamiliar with and, therefore, have not sought needed treatment. Others have refrained from seeking medical help because of frustrations with language and communication barriers in medical offices. Ramos encourages drivers to take control of their health and manage their medical conditions regardless of such fear or aggravation. In many cases, she also works to alter drivers’ "on-the-go" eating habits to reduce their risks for obesity and diabetes. More than 3,000 drivers comprise the service area of Ramos’ program. Drivers served are predominantly Dominican, West African, Columbian and Venezuelan male immigrants between the ages of 21 and 60. Most are uninsured. In a letter of recommendation supporting Ramos’ nomination for the award, Assemblywoman Carmen E. Arroyo, who represents New York’s 84th district, wrote that Ramos’ program is among her "greatest accomplishments" as a "pioneer for public health" in New York City.

Ramos and each of the 2008 awardees will join the ranks of 153 Community Health Leaders in 45 states and Puerto Rico honored since 1993. The $125,000 award consists of a $20,000 personal gift and $105,000 to support their work. In addition to Ramos in New York, this year, Community Health Leaders hail from Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Massachusetts, California, Utah, New York, North Dakota and Hawaii. Nominations for the 2009 Community Health Leaders Award can be submitted through November 7, 2008. For details on how to submit a nomination, including eligibility requirements and selection criteria, visit

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years, the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit



Community Health Leaders 2008

Photo of Maria RamosArea(s) of Expertise: Access to Care

Leader's Biography 2008:
MARIA RAMOS, Network Associate Director, Generations +/Northwestern Manhattan Health Network, New York, New York
In 2003 Maria Ramos saw a need for health services among New York City’s taxi and limousine drivers who frequently suffer from medical conditions as a result of their sedentary work and “on-the-go” eating habits. What began as an opportunity to bring healthcare to those living and working in Harlem and the South Bronx communities, has developed into a mechanism to deliver healthcare services to drivers at 70 taxi bases across New York, where over 3,000 drivers and their families can have access to care. Ramos and her outreach staff travel to area taxi bases daily, utilizing dispatch radios to announce the availability of services for that day. Most services are provided within an hour, which appeals to drivers, who average three customers within that time frame. Ramos’ success has led to other projects, including a collaboration with the taxi bases and the Department of Aging to increase awareness of available healthcare services programs to seniors as she continues to find innovative efforts to meet the healthcare needs of New Yorkers.

Where this Leader can be reached today:
Network Associate Director Community Health Education Program
Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center
234 E 149th St
Bronx, NY 10451-5504
Phone: 718-579-4981
Fax: 718-579-4602

Posted by Jose at 3:34 PM

April 27, 2008

J. Marion Sims, Surgeon or Monster?

East Harlem - April 27, 2008. A recent poll in the East Harlem Preservation website asks its visitors if the statue of J. Marion Sims should be removed from its present location. The question is phrased as follows: "Should the NYC Parks Department remove the statue of Dr. Marion Sims from its East Harlem location considering his experiments on female and infant slaves?"

Photo the statue erected in honor of Dr. J. Marion Sims in 1894 on East 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue, on the border of Central Park.The question assumes that those being polled have some knowledge of just who was Dr. J. Marion Sims. Hopefully, all polled did some research before adding their two cents.

Dr. J. Marion Sims Jan. 25, 1813 - Nov. 13, 1883.

In viewing the above dates it should immediately strike the reader that we are dealing with someone from outside our current time and place. Dr. Sims was born over 195 years ago. Quite close to 200 years ago. He died just over 125 years ago. Keep this in mind when evaluating Dr. Sims.

J. Marion Sims is famous for pioneering a treatment for vesicovaginal fistula A vesicovaginal fistula can be caused by injury to the urinary tract, which can occur accidentally during surgery to the pelvic area, such as a hysterectomy. It can also be caused by a tumor in the vesicovaginal area or by reduced blood supply due to tissue death (necrosis) caused by radiation therapy or prolonged labor during childbirth.

The most common symptom is constant urine leakage from the vagina. The patient may also experience irritation in the area of the vulva, and frequent urinary tract infections." (Penn State Health & Diseases Topics A-Z)

It seems that Dr. Sims learned, tweaked and homed his treatment for vesicovaginal fistula by working on his own patients and on African Slaves women and children. Dr. Sims has been accused of treating the African Slave women without the use of any anesthetic during the procedure (operation). Although he did administer an opiate after the procedure to alleviate the pain. Some have also accuse Dr. Sims of deliverately trying to addict these women to the opiate. Due to all his pioneering work, Dr. Sims is known as the "Father of Gynecology". His treatment has allowed thousands of women to lead normal lives. Since his time treatments built upon his pioneering work have helped eve more women.

Dr. Sims did in fact try and improve his treatment for vesicovaginal fistula whenever he came across it in his line of work. This included white and African Slave women. The difference was that Dr. Sims did not administer an anesthetic to the African Slave women. Still his actual knowledge was garnered by both white and African Slaves. So that the procedure itself was not a mutilation of slave women and a correct procedure for white women. Secondly, after perfecting his treatment, he applied it equally to all women. And all women benefit to this day.

It seems that the main contention really is that Dr. Sims did not administer an anesthetic to the African slave women. This write acknowledges that was indeed unfortunate and not what I would wish on the worlds worst people. It was unfortunate because those women suffered great great pain. Some of them were repeatedly operated on by Dr. Sims to correct the problem, some to the tune of over 30 times. It is unimaginable the pain these particular women went through.

Repeated operations more than suggest two things, one that Dr. Sims was seeking (exploring) a way to correct this medical problem, hence the repeated attempts, and two that he was determined to try until he found the correct procedure. He could have tried any procedure once or twice, failed, and given up thereby dooming thousands of women to suffer. But he persisted till he figured out how to help these women, all women.

Call for the Removal of the Statue
But some are calling for the removal of Dr. Sims' statue under the accusation that he was "racists" and that he "tortured" slave women. A statue that has been in its present and only location since 1894. Just how fair is that call for the statue's removal?

Let's look at the facts:
Dr. Sims did in fact work out his procedure on women the majority of which were slaves.
Dr. Sims did in fact not anesthetize slave patients choosing instead to give then opiates after the procedure. It is possible that Dr. Sims did not think the slave women to be human beings at all. A not uncommon way of thinking back then, hence the civil war. All of the above does not bode well for the Dr. Sims as more Doctor than monster.

What can mitigate against seeing Dr. Sims as a monster or torturer? First it must be remembered that Dr. Sims operated at a time when anesthesia was just beginning to be used with medical confidence (1846). Not all surgeons had access to anesthesia let alone used it initially. It took time for anesthesia to known, distributed and used properly. Dr. Sims did use it on his white females patients, but not on his African Slave patients as he may not have thought them as fully human. Again a belief common to that time. He did think enough of them to give them an opiate (pain killer) to relive post operative pain. So he was not totally without concern or empathy for these women.

What current day activists are trying to do is punish Dr. Sims for not being like us. He is being punished for not thinking like a 20th-21st Century activist. Much like poor Christopher Columbus, Dr. Sims is the victim tremendously displaced hindsight. Activists are holding past historical figures "guilty" of something they could not possibly possess, which is Current Day Thinking. Basically they are trying impose current day social morality on a 19th century man. The man not having benefited from the last 150 years of knowledge in areas of medicine, and moral discourse. But is still held accountable for it.(for what he does not have) It's like blaming cavemen for not using acrylics to do their cave paintings.

Photo of part of the Dr. Sims column stating his accomplishmentsThe danger of using present thinking to judge historical figures is that the same will be done to us. It is nothing but unfair to anyone it is thrust upon. Imagine 100 years from now when abortion is illegal (due to respect for life). Some writer decides that the statues of all who supported abortion should be brought down, no matter how much "social justice" they did in our current time. Would it be fair to be judged on just one thing? No matter how much good you did?

Or lets say that vegetarians have their way an impose no meat eating upon society. And they decide that all who ate meat should be erased from history. Would you want to be judged in the future on something you barely give a second thought to now?

What this writer is saying is that we must remember the historical context that others had to live in and respect that they did the best with what they knew. They did not have the benefit of our way of thinking. This does not excuse bad behavior or ways of thinking. We can say that Columbus did not treat the American Indians well (sorry I'm too educated to be PC minded), but also realize that way of thinking was not an uncommon way for Europeans to think back then.

But we can still say that Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Che, Castro, Sandinistas, and others of their ilk were indeed evil people (results of atheism, the biggest killer of people ever). But they all lived in a time when they should have known better by virtue of all the human rights, natural rights and theology around during the turn of the century (1900).

The same can not be said of Dr. Sims. He never heard the great men like Martin Luther King, or Supreme Court Justice Thomas. He never went through the civil rights era and learned from that. He never had the benefit of our current thinking. But he did find a procedure to help all women, white, black, asian, etc.. who had a vesicovaginal fistula. He did not use this correct procedure only on white women, but on all women who came to him for help. And as use of his procedure spread among all surgeons even more women were helped regardless of color, ethnicity, or language.

What do do?Photo of the Dr Sims statue column stating the honors bestowed upon him by this and other countries around the world
It seems Dr. Sims did some good along with some bad. But even the bad that he did, he did in an effort to find a corrective procedure for vesicovaginal fistula. His intention was not to mutilate or disfigure his patients. His intention was to find a way to makes things right, by finding a corrective procedure for vesicovaginal fistula. What do we do with that knowledge of all the good he did? Do we dismiss all the good he did? He was no Dr. Josef Mengele. He was trying to help his patients.

Lastly, a generation of citizens decided to honor Dr. Sims' life by erecting a statue of him. He received honors from Belgium, France Italy, Spain and Portugal. It seems presumptuous and elitist of us to undo their judgment and honoring of Dr. Sims. We are telling that generation and those countries that we know better than they who lived in that very time.

Whatever you decide please remember that you will be judged as you judge and that future generations judge your judgment. Using the same criteria that is being used against Dr. Sims, it could be argued that most of our U.S. and Puerto Rican artist could be called on the rug and taken from history for all of their faults. Dr. Sims at least helped people by virtue of being a doctor, found a procedure to correct vesicovaginal fistula, among all the good medicine he practiced. But how will all our cultural and musical heroes (all the druggie and alcoholic artists) defend themselves having only their art and money received from it (self interest) to show for their faults? How would you like a 25th Century activist judge you and this whole generation based on something we have not even experienced in our time?

Dr. Sim's status should remain right where it is. It would seem sad and petty to yank that statue out of its current location. And for those who whole heartedly believe his statue should go, the question is this: How does the statue's removal correct anything? What does it accomplish? To what end is this act directed? It does not punish Dr. Sims, he is part of eternity now. Is the statue removal effort, an attempt, to scratch a "social justice" itch? Do activists not have bigger and live fish to fry? Or will they continue to pick on those who can not defend themselves because they have died - the easy targets?

Lastly, remember, none of us are totally good. Unlike Dr. Sims, we do not have hundreds or thousands of patients to show how we spent our lives. Most of us have more good intentions than good works done to show for our lives. And yet we dare judge a man who did mostly good, for women no less. It does seem ungrateful.

It goes to show is that hindsight does not a good judge make. - JBR

Posted by Jose at 5:15 PM

September 4, 2006

Metropolitan Hospital Closing?

East Harlem, September 4, 2006. The community has been blanketed with flyers by the "Community Coalition to Prevent the Closing of Metropolitan Hospital". The Flyer asks the public to join in a demonstration to be held on Tuesday, September,5th, 2006

The Community Coalition to Prevent the Closing of Metropolitan Hospital is asking that the Hospital not be closed. It asserts that the hospital will be sold without following due process and by shirting adherence to regulations without regard to the NYC charter and Advisory Board By-Laws.

The coalition also demands the immiediate reinstatement of Executive Director, Louis Martir who got the hopital through its last JACHO evaluation, but who has now been canned due to political considerations.

This writer has also been hearing rumors of throughout the community of the Health and Hospitals Corporation eagerness to rid itself of Metropolitan Hospital.

One does not know what to believe when hearing these rumors. They have been around for years. Especially during times of fiscal crisis. But something does seem to be in the wind. Mr. Martir IS an excellent leader. He got things done and has the love and support of hopital workers and of the community. Besides, it great having one of our own running the hospital and doing a great job of it too. So one must ask the Health and Hospital's Corporation, what gives? Why the need for the change?

This writer left numerous messages to Reynalda Walker, Community Affaris, who handles these media request for information. But Ms. Walker never returned my phone calls. Hence very incomplete information about this situation. It's a shame that PR people choose to hide when they are needed the most to clearify a situation.

So is Metropolitan closing? Is is Up for Sale to Donald Trump? or is this all just a trial bullon to see if the community reacts? By the looks of things, the community is beginning to react, rumor or not.

Posted by Jose at 1:18 PM

May 22, 2004

Fourth Annual Asthma Symposium

A local asthma group held its fourth annual symposium Saturday, May 22, 2004 to discuss how obesity, smoking, and indoor allergens from housing-related problems contribute to the high asthma rate in East Harlem and to show residents how they can reduce the impact of the respiratory disease.

The East Harlem Asthma Working Group, Inc., the coalition coordinating the event, held the symposium to address health concerns expressed by the East Harlem community in a survey distributed in February 2004. Speaking to the attendees at Public School 57, Delfina Cruz, chair of the East Harlem Asthma Working Group, the coalition coordinating the symposium, explained the purpose of the event. Our goal is to not only educate our audience about the various aspects associated with asthma, but also to let residents know that they have the power to control this disease, not the other way around, she said. According to Cruz, the topics discussed at the symposium, such as obesity and smoking, were concerns expressed by the East Harlem community in a survey distributed in February 2004.

Israel Soto, principal of Public School 57 explained how the problem of asthma and obesity is affecting his school. He stated that over 24 percent of the student population at P.S. 57 was diagnosed with asthma. Soto also cited how his schools clinic weighed 592 students and discovered that over 40 percent of the student body is either overweight or obese. We go beyond the national norm of 25 percent so this is another area thats a big concern of P.S. 57, the principal said.

Invited speakers discussed the behavioral factors associated with making asthma worse. Benjamin Ortiz, M.D., a general pediatrician at Columbia University-Harlem Hospital Center, stated that the medical community is still trying to understand the association between asthma and obesity. According to Ortiz, many studies are attempting to clarify the interaction between these illnesses. He speculated that some people with asthma may believe that they cant participate in physical activities, such as sports, believing that such activities will precipitate an asthma attack. Prolonged physical inactivity will leave these adults and children vulnerable to becoming overweight or obese. Ortiz explained that a persons culture may also play a role in contributing to the problem. We [Latinos] use words like full-figured or big-boned to describe our kids, the pediatrician said. In our culture, being overweight isnt necessarily seen as a bad thing and thats a major problem in this community. Ortiz recommended that parents encourage their children to be more physically active and spend quality time together during meals. He cited a study that found a connection between family members who spent less time together at the dinner table and an increase in their weight. Parents are the first line of defense [against obesity-related medical problems, including those children with asthma], Ortiz stated. Physical fitness improves asthma symptoms and prevents weight gain.

Photo of Maria Botello-Cabrera of the New York State Psychiatric Institute Maria Botello-Cabrera, Ed.D of the New York State Psychiatric Institute explained how smoking worsens the respiratory health of asthmatics. Tobacco smoke is a powerful asthma trigger, she said. She stated that tobacco smoke, when inhaled, impedes the cilias ability to sweep microbes and tiny debris out of the lungs and may cause health problems like asthma. Botello-Cabrera added that cigarette smoke promotes excess production of mucus, making an asthmatics narrow airways even narrower. She recommended that asthmatics who smoke seek smoking cessation programs that intervene through support groups and the use of drugs to deal with the physical addition of nicotine.

In addition to the obesity and smoking factors associated with the respiratory disease, the symposium also addressed how problems in the home can exacerbate asthma. The audience viewed an 11-minute film that explained how housing-related problems, such as leaking pipes and non-working vents in bathrooms, can create an excessive moist environment that encourage the growth of mold, a trigger of asthma. Susanne Lachapelle and Ray Lopez of Little Sister of the Assumption, the organization that created the short movie, stated that residents who know how to identify housing problems that contribute to asthma are more empowered to control the impact of the disease. Michael Bosnick, assistant commissioner of the anti-abandonment division of the New York City Housing Preservation and Development (NYCHPD), explained that his agency recognize mold as a serious hazard to tenants health. According to the assistant commissioner, NYCHPD issues class-C violations to landlords if mold covers more than 25 square feet of the area of a room. A Class-C is a housing code violation that identifies a housing problem as immediately hazardous and demands swift action to correct the problem. Bosnick stated that NYCHPD will send an emergency repair unit to fix housing violations if the proprietor takes too long to correct the problem and later bill the landlord for services rendered.

Andrew Lehrer, an attorney from Legal Aid Society, told the audience that they have certain legal rights to push landlords to correct violations that may aggravate their asthma. He suggested that tenants put their complaint in writing and send it to the property owner by certified mail, and document housing problems for their personal records by taking photos and dating them. Lehrer stated that residents, either individually or collectively, have the right to withhold their rent to protest substandard living conditions until repairs are made. The landlord cant evict without first taking you to court, the attorney said. He explained that a tenant can tell a housing court judge the reason for withholding rent and the landlord can be ordered by the court to fix the housing violation. Lehrer added that a tenant must give the landlord any back rent withheld during the rent strike once the court order has been completed.

One segment of the symposium dealt with the benefits of homeownership as an option to reduce the impact of asthma in residents lives. Migdol Realty Management is promoting home ownership among community members in Harlem because owning a home gives residents control over their living conditions and builds personal wealth, said Gerald S. Migdol, Esq. of Migdol Realty Management, LLC, a co-sponsor of the event. He explained that many tenants have little or no control over their landlords use of pesticides or neglect of mold, which may aggravate their asthma. "Home ownership in Harlem is at 6 percent, compared to 25 percent for the rest of New York City, and we want to bridge that gap. Migdol also added that many residents may be intimidated by the financial process of buying a home. My organization has strong ties to this community and we want to show Harlem residents that they have the ability to achieve home ownership and generate wealth through low down payments and low monthly payments equivalent to what they would normally pay in rent, the realtor said.

Photo of Principal Israel Soto and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields Earlier, the East Harlem Asthma Working Group proposed three policy recommendations to the audience and elected officials to help alleviate the asthma problem affecting the lives of East Harlem residents. Two of the recommendations are giving the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygienes mold guidelines mandatory enforcement status applicable to landlords and mandating integrated pest management and vent cleaning to decrease environmental exposures to tenants. Elected officials commented on the points of the coalitions policy recommendations. Describing the points as doable, New York City Councilmember Philip Reed, who represents East Harlem, expressed his support for the policy recommendations. Im committed to making those things [policy recommendation points] happen with you [the community]. Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields stated that she felt it was important to make the citys health departments mold guidelines mandatory to help alleviate poor housing conditions that exacerbate asthma. When we do that, we will see a tremendous difference, Fields told the audience.

Webmaster: This article was written by Mr. Leon Tulton. And the Photographs were all provided by him.

Posted by Jose at 7:58 AM

September 6, 2003

Asthma Group Three Mile Walk

Written and Submitted by Leon Tulton

The East Harlem Asthma Working Group (EHAWG), the Office of New York City Councilmember Philip Reed, and the Office of NYS Senator David Patterson will be sponsoring its first annual three-mile march, entitled C.A.M.IN.A.R for Asthma, on Saturday, September 6, 2003 to raise awareness about the asthma epidemic plaguing the East Harlem community.

"The reason for this walk is to not only put a spotlight on how asthma is a major health problem in our community, but to show the human faces that are affected by this respiratory disease," Delfina Cruz, Vice Chair of EHAWG, said. "Like the March of Dimes' annual walkathon that brings attention to its cause, we hope that our walk will do the same for ours." She stated that the name of the walk represents the theme of the event. "C.A.M.IN.A.R, which means 'to walk' in Spanish, is an acronym that means 'Community Actively Marching to INspire Awareness and Responsibility'" Cruz said. "We want to do just thatinspire awareness about environmental triggers of asthma and let the public know about those who are responsible for these environmental problems affecting their health."

Philip Landrigan, M.D., a pediatrician and chair of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explained that diesel exhaust from sources, such as city buses, is one contributing factor that can affect respiratory health. "Diesel exhaust is dangerous to human health, especially to children, because it is made up of tiny particles that easily invade and irritate the lungs," Landrigan said. "It's unconscionable that East Harlem, which has the highest asthma hospitalization rate in New York City, continues to be disproportionately exposed to this hazardous pollutant."
Cruz added that the lax enforcement of the city's idling laws is another contributing factor to the community's high asthma rate. "Despite DOT's [NYC Department of Transportation] regulations prohibiting vehicles from idling for more than three minutes, many New York City Transit (NYCT) buses that rest at their depots have their engines running for long periods of time," Cruz said. "This lax enforcement of the idling law is exposing East Harlem residents to dangerous soot which can trigger an asthma attack."

Elected officials invited to participate in the march includes U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Both senators have been active in helping the East Harlem community in their fight against asthma. In April, Schumer announced his plan to persuade the Senate to appropriate $200 million to expand the U.S. Center for Disease Control's Inner City Asthma Intervention Program. The pilot program hires and trains asthma counselors who teach parents how to maximize the effectiveness of their children's medical treatment and to reduce exposure to environmental factors that trigger asthma attacks. East Harlem is one of the sites participating in the program. In May, Clinton spoke at an asthma symposium held in East Harlem. The senator promised residents that she would join them in the fight against the respiratory disease plaguing the East Harlem community.

The walk route will start in front of the councilmember's office on 105 E. 116th Street and end in front of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Building at 163 W. 125th Street. At the end of the route, walkers will hear remarks from other elected officials, community residents, environmentalists, and public health advocates. Organizations and city agencies that will attend the event include Mount Sinai, Little Sisters of the Assumption, Children's Aid Society, Community Healthcare Network Asthma Initiative, and 1199 SEIU.

The event is co-sponsored by the Offices of U.S. Representative Charles Rangel, NYS Assemblyman Keith Wright, NYS Senator David Patterson, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, and NYC Councilmember Bill Perkins.

Individuals or groups interested in registering for the event should call 212-828-9800.

Posted by Jose at 4:27 PM

September 5, 2003

Asthma March at City Hall

Picture of the Coalition at the step of City Hall annoucing the Asthma March

Written and Submitted by Leon Tulton

A coalition of elected officials, community residents, and representatives from various health organizations assembled on the steps of City Hall yesterday to announce their support of an upcoming asthma march, entitled C.A.M.IN.A.R for Asthma, scheduled to be held in East Harlem this Saturday.

NYC Councilmember Philip Reed of City Council District 8, who represents the East Harlem community and a co-sponsor of the march, stated that the purpose of Saturday's event is to bring attention to the issue of asthma, which is adversely affecting many of his constituents. "We have a crisis," Reed said. "The reason for this walk is to not only put a spotlight on how asthma is a major health problem in our community, but to show the human faces that are affected by this respiratory disease." Reed publicly acknowledged the hard work of the East Harlem Asthma Working Group (EHAWG), a community-based coalition of East Harlem residents and various health, medical, and environmental organizations, for putting together the march. "The East Harlem Asthma Working Group came up with the title "C.A.M.IN.A.R", which mean 'to walk' in Spanish, as an acronym for 'Community Actively Marching to INspire Awareness and Responsibility," he said. "We want to do just that...inspire awareness about environmental triggers of asthma and let the public know about those who are responsible for thse environmental problems affecting their health."

NYC Council Speaker Gifford Miller voiced his support for the march. "This Saturday, I urge all New Yorkers to be a part of it [the asthma march]," Miller said. "The council has maintained its commitment to combating this ailment by continuing funding for special initiatives like the East Harlem Asthma Working Group, whose efforts have resulted in lower hospitalization rates for children suffering with asthma, particularly in East Harlem." The city council head also commented about the disproportionate number of bus depots situated in communities like East Harlem contributing to increased air pollution, a trigger of asthma. "Par of our responsibility [as government] must be to attack the problem of air pollution," Miller said. "Poorer and fragile communities are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to air pollution because, as we all know, they often have a high concentration of diesel bus and truck traffic." He cited that communities north of 96th Street, such as East Harlem, is home to five of seven bus depots in the borough of Manhattan. "It's an old story-we have all heard it before-it's time that we wrote an appropriate ending," he said. Miller added that NYS Governor George Pataki and the state legislature must commit to serious investment in cleaner-fuel buses instead of continually purchasing diesel-powered buses.

NYS Senate Minority Leader David A. Paterson, who represents the 30th State Senate District and a co-sponsor of C.A.M.IN.A.R for Asthma, also expressed his support for the march. "This march is an opportunity to educate and legislate more profound and innovative ways of fighting this terrible disease," stated Paterson. "With the participation of our U.S. Senators, we're bringing national attention to a respiratory ailment that has plagued our communities for years." A representative from EHAWG later confirmed that U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Hilary Rodham Clinton have confirmed that they will be participating in the asthma march, which will be lead by Clinton. The state senator also stated that elected officials must pressure the federal government for increased funding to medical facilities in order to better combat asthma. "We have to make sure that [health facilities in East Harlem such as] Metropolitan, Mount Sinai, and North General are equip to handle this [asthma]," he said.

Carolyn Rosen, MD, a pediatrician at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a member of EHAWG, stated that the march symbolizes a partnership between elected official and the community in the fight against asthma. Reading the organization's position statement, she mentioned points in the plan that included inspiring the East Harlem community and the nation to take action against the asthma epidemic and the responsibility for asthma control must be taken by the public, individually and collectively, and the government. Rosen cited that the public can collectively seek appropriate resources and band together to fight against environmental pollutants in East Harlem.

Prior to the press conference, Mia Mischuk-O'Brien, a representative of Respironics' Asthma & Allergy Division, stated that her organization is proud to be a financial co-sponsor of the march. "Respironics is dedicated to empowering healthcare providers and their patients, at all points of care, to better manage asthma and allergies with education, unique programs and innovative products that help deliver optimal clinical and financial outcomes," O'Brien said. Lloyd Bishop, associate vice president for Government and Community Affairs at the Greater New York Hospital Association, also expressed his organization's support of Saturday's event. "As one of the major sponsors of the march, we are proud to stand with our members, the public and private hospitals in the community, and with 1199/SEIU through our joint Healthcare Education Project, in support of the East Harlem Asthma Working Group's effort to spotlight asthma as a concern in the community."

D'Andrea Jones, a 10-year-old East Harlem resident who has asthmas and was chosen to be the march's co-grand marshal, made a public plea to elected officials to help clean up environmental pollutants that trigger her asthma. "I have asthma," she said. "Please clean the air so me and other kids with asthma can breathe." Jones described how being affected with asthma interferes with her schooling. "When I am in the hospital, I can't go to school and learn," she said. Paula Elbirt, MD, medical director of the Children's Aid Society's Health Service division and Jones' chaperone, later explained that her organization runs a medical clinic at P.S. 50 where the young girl attends. She explained that her organization established a full service medical and dental clinic for the students of P.S. 50 and their families in 2000 to identify and treat chronic illness, such as asthma. "We have identified over 150 children at P.S. 50, a school of approximately 600 children, who are in need of our direct assistance for issues relating to their asthma," Elbirt said. She added that asthma contributes to school absenteeism and interferes with a student's quality of learning. "On Saturday, we're not only fighting for our children's' health, but their future as productive members of their community," Elbirt said.

Posted by Jose at 4:37 PM

May 31, 2003

Asthma Group Community Meeting

U.S. Senator Clinton at JHS 45 with two characters from Respironics, Zoey (the blue car) and Light Buddy (the traffic light).

Written and Submitted By Leon Tulton

The photo was taken by Eric Moore.">Elected leaders, community residents, and experts from the health, housing, and realty professions gathered Saturday, May 31, 2003, to discuss how housing-related problems in East Harlem can aggravate asthma in children, ways to resolve them, and information on purchasing a home for the first time to change their home environment.

Addressing the audience at Junior High School 45, New York City Councilmember Philip Reed, who represents City Council District 8 and co-sponsor of the event, stated that asthma continues to be a major problem in East Harlem. He explained that the purpose of the symposium was to raise awareness about asthma and how problems in and around the home can affect the quality of the community's respiratory health. Reed said many residents do not realize that asthma is a preventable disease and stressed that education and more funding is the key to prevention.

U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, representing the 7th Congressional District, stated that residents have the power to take action on an individual level to reduce indoor triggers that can set off an asthma attack. The senator cited how environmental tobacco smoke from cigarettes in homes is an indoor trigger of asthma that residents can control. "We need to get people to stop smoking," Clinton said. "It's good for them and for the [respiratory health of their] children." She also recommended that residents can organize themselves into an activist group to deal with asthma triggers in their community that they cannot individually control. She cited how the use of commercial pesticide in housing can affect asthmatic tenants who do not have a say in the use of the chemical. Clinton said that residents collectively can push for legislation to control the use of pesticide in homes. She also pledged to stand with the East Harlem community in its fight against asthma. "I will march with you. I will fight with you. And someday soon I hope we can say we have beaten asthma to save our children," Clinton said followed by loud applause from the audience.

Physicians from two East Harlem health institutions discussed the environmental causes of asthma and the effect of the disease on children and their families. Philip Landrigan, M.D., a pediatrician at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explained that childhood asthma is aggravated by indoor air pollution such as cockroach droppings, fumes from gas stoves, and mold. He also added that outdoor air pollution that invades the home is another trigger of asthma. Landrigan cited how unfair transportation policies in the community disproportionately expose residents to diesel exhaust from buses, a possible contributing factor to East Harlem's unusual high asthma hospitalization rate. "It's unconscionable that all but one bus depot that emit diesel exhaust are north of 96th Street," the physician said regarding the high concentration of bus depots placed mostly in low-income communities of color by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state transportation agency. Mitch Rubin, M.D., a pediatrician from Metropolitan Hospital, spoke about the social effect of asthma on children and their families. According to a recent unpublished report from Metropolitan Hospital, one in five residents sampled has asthma. Rubin said that the respiratory disease can affect an asthmatic child's quality of education and limit his or her play activities. Asthma is the number one cause of school absenteeism in New York City public schools. He added that parents of asthmatic children are affected financially by the disease. The physician said that parents lose time from work when they have to take their children to the hospital due to an asthma attack.

Representatives from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYCDOH), NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and the Legal Aid Society spoke about the danger of mold in homes and the legal rights tenants have to resolve housing-related problems affecting their health. Chris D'Andrea of NYCDOH explained that mold thrives in excessive moist environments created from housing-related problems such as leaking pipes and poor ventilation of bathrooms. Mold is dangerous to respiratory health because it release microscopic spores that can invade the lungs and promote asthma-like symptoms in people, especially children. "Mold is not only a health issue, but also a housing issue," D'Andrea said. Ray Powers, chief inspector of Manhattan's code enforcement division at HPD, stated that his agency has been addressing the issue of mold since 1998. Powers added that problems with mold in homes are classified as a class-C violation, a health hazard that requires immediate intervention from either the landlord or HPD. Andrew Lehrer, a lawyer from the Legal Aid Society, told the audience that his organization offers free legal representation for tenant associations in Harlem, East Harlem, and Upper Manhattan. He suggested that tenants who complain to their landlords about housing problems should ensure that the complaint is written and sent by certified mail. Lehrer also said that tenants can push for housing repairs from their landlords by staging a rent strike (withholding the money for rent) or going to housing court in order to get a court order or court-appointed administrator to take over a dwelling.

The second half of the event focused on how East Harlem residents can purchase a home for the first time. When asked the reason for including information about purchasing a home at the conference, Delfina Cruz, vice chair of the East Harlem Asthma Working Group, a co-sponsor of the event, explained that the councilman and the other event co-sponsors wanted to inform East Harlem residents that purchasing a home is not as difficult as they may believe. "We not only want to educate the community about the ways they can fix housing-related problems that affect their health, but also show them that they have the power to change their entire indoor environment by moving to a place that they own," Cruz said. Representatives from housing, banking, and realty professions told the audience about ways they can receive financial assistance in purchasing a home. David Jackson, assistant commissioner of HPD, explained that his agency provides a $10,000 grant to first-time homebuyers with an income at or below $78,920 for a family of three or more or $75,360 for a family of one or two. One of the requirements to receive the grant is potential buyers must purchase a home in one of HPD's Homeownership Zones in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, or Staten Island. Gilroy Lino of Fleet Bank spoke of a similar financial program offered by his organization. He stated that his bank offers a $6,000 grant to first-time home buyers who purchase homes in low and moderate income communities. Maria Guillen of Banco Popular explained that her bank offers free pre-approval for those who are interested in purchasing a home. Pre-approval means a potential home buyer met with a loan officer, the person's credit file has been reviewed and the bank believes that the person can readily qualify for a given loan amount with one or more specific mortgage programs. Based on information provided by the potential home buyer, the lender can provide a pre-approval letter which shows the person's borrowing power. Although it is not a final loan commitment, the pre-approval letter can be shown to listing brokers when bidding on a home. The letter proves that a potential buyer has the ability to go through with a purchase. Yvette Foster, owner of Foster Homes Real Estate, advised the audience that they should view the property themselves and hire a home inspector to make sure there are no problems with their new home. "A home inspector can identify potential problems that may not be clearly identifiable to a first-time home buyer," Foster said. "For example, a home inspector can identify the source of a mold problem that can cause asthma."

Three East Harlem residents who attended the conference were interviewed earlier for this story. They explained that they came to the event to learn more about asthma and spoke about how the respiratory disease affected their families. An East Harlem resident who identified herself as Evelyn told me that she and her son were recently diagnosed with asthma two weeks ago. "I noticed that I started having problems breathing a year after I moved to East Harlem from Coney Island [in Brooklyn]," she said. Judy Glover, another East Harlem resident, said that she came to the symposium to learn how to deal with the mold issue in her home. Thereas Campos, an asthmatic and mother of two asthmatic children, explained that she hoped to learn how to deal with the problem of roach infestation in her apartment, a trigger of asthma. "I want to [learn how to fix] the housing problems that I believe is related to my asthma," Campos said in Spanish. "I'm doing this for the sake of myself and my children." Note: Special thanks to Margie Rodriguez for interpreting Ms. Campos' statement

Posted by Jose at 4:20 PM