Health, News

Lynn Community Health Center a national model for fighting tuberculosis

Mark Miner, team leader of field operations team east for the CDC, speaks during a celebration of the completion of a three-year tuberculosis study at Lynn Community Health Center. (Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNN — Lynn Community Health Center won praise Thursday for its success in detecting and treating a leading global cause of death — tuberculosis. 

“This is a model program,” federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) team leader Mark Miner told 50 people celebrating the health center’s TB-fighting success since 2013.

That was the year the Union Street-based center opened a TB clinic focused on populations at high risk of catching the cough-borne microbacteria disease.

“That is all of the world except for north and west Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand,” said Center medical director for infectious diseases Dr. Hanna Haptu.

Center patients include immigrants and refugees from around the world living in Lynn. Haptu said the number of people tested for TB and treated through the clinic quickly expanded, prompting the center to join forces with the state Department of Public Health to apply for federal money to pay for expanded screening and treatment.

Miner said the center’s application survived rigorous competition to become the only one nationally picked for a $1.5 million, three-year TB testing and treatment grant. 

CDCP required the center to screen 7,500 people over three years for TB and treat patients who screened positive for the disease. The clinic has screened 10,000 patients since 2016.

Haptu said 15 percent of patients screened tested positive for TB and 80 percent of those patients have completed treatment. The other 20 percent moved from the area or faced medical complications preventing their treatment. 

Colombian-born Nilba Cortissoz was screened and diagnosed with TB four months ago. She has almost completed treatment, which involves taking pills on a regular basis.

“At the beginning, I was afraid. Now I am so grateful this disease can be prevented,” Cortissoz said. 

Haptu and center Director Dr. Kiame Mahaniah said an informational campaign designed to inform foreign-born patients about TB in their first language and shatter misconceptions about the disease helped attract patients for testing and diagnosis.

Pathways, the Lynnway-based adult education and career program, organized focus groups and slapped informational posters on its walls supporting the TB initiative.

“Our students come from 40 different countries. We had a lot of challenges and cultural barriers but we want a more educated and healthier Lynn,” said Pathways director of student support services Iveth Martinez. 

Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders praised Haptu, TB project manager Melis Celmen, nurse manager Deb McManus and other clinic workers for their work. 

“You do this work because you believe so much in community,” Sudders said.

Mahaniah credited Mayor Thomas M. McGee, the city’s legislative delegation and state health officials with supporting the TB initiative. The federal grant ends in December, but Haptu said state money will continue to be available to pay for the clinic’s work.

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