Genma Speaks

Entrepreneur/ Writer/ Radio-Host

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Redundancy of the Government and Lessons from the Hood

Coinciding with National Child Abuse Awareness Month, Governor Bredesen announced the state will fund a new program aimed to help reduce infant mortality in two Nashville neighborhoods.

The two year program, "Mothers United for Healthy Babies", will target the Napier and Sudekum housing and Edgehill communities. These areas have significant higher infant mortality rates than the rest of the Davidson County. A similar program was unveiled in Memphis a week earlier. In Memphis, a baby under the age of one dies every 48 hours.

“The Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination is committed to developing and supporting programs with a record of success in increasing survival rates among Tennessee’s youngest population,” said Governor Bredesen in a recent press release. “I’m pleased the state is funding this program to empower mothers in Davidson County with the education and support they need to increase their babies’ chances of reaching their first birthdays and beyond.”

I applaud the Governor for his efforts to address a problem that is plaguing a segment of the community. But addressing and studying the problem is what government programs do. Rarely will a government program solve a social issue because the solutions are often not as complicated as the bureaucracy that is set up to solve the problem.

Ironically, April is National Pest Control Month. Ask any pest management professional and we will tell you, where there are roaches and rodents running amuck, there will be illness, disease and filth out of control. Crime is not that far behind. With two press conferences and much media converge to announce the program; has anyone from the Governor's office taken a stroll through public housing and visited homes where the roaches greet you at the door? Has anyone gone into a unit and taken a whiff of the pungent odor from the rodents' urine in the air that is breathed daily by young mothers and infants?

When I first started in this business, I visited a few Section-8 units prior to responding to an invitation to bid. I was greener than the botanical pesticides I use and everything I did was an educational experience at that point. I was escorted by an employee of the housing complex who eyed me suspiciously and wondered why I was taking the time to inspect "the projects". I looked at him with wide-eyed innocence and asked, "Don't everyone do a walk through?" He erupted in laughter and asked, “Lady, are you serious? These units are going for a dollar an apartment!” I thought I heard him wrong and asked him again and he repeated, “one dollar!” louder and with more laughter.

A scientist put a dollar worth of insecticide in a vial for me and it was a squirt or two. That was my introduction to the redundancy of government programs. Metro pays $4 dollars for an apartment. The average home owner pays $40-65 for monthly maintenance services and they are not fighting infestations.

Roaches can spread at least 33 kinds of bacteria, 6 kinds of parasitic worms and 7 other human pathogens. Roaches pick up germs on the spines of their legs and bodies as they crawl through sewage and then carry them into food or onto cooking surfaces. Germs, that roaches eat from decaying matter or sewage, are protected while inside them and can remain infective for weeks longer than if they had been exposed to cleaning agents or sunlight and air. The habits and high reproductive rate of cockroaches can lead to large populations which can spread disease, contaminate and eat our food, as well as cause allergies and trigger asthma attacks.

Rodents are worst. Mice and rats are known to spread strains of Hantavirus that sometimes kill people. Rodents are known to harbor and spread as many as 200 human diseases. The house mouse have recently been shown to give off an allergen (called Mouse Urinary Protein or MUP) in the hundreds of tiny micro-droplets of urine they deposit every night as they scurry through their territory or nesting areas.

“Mothers United will emphasize how mothers help mothers to keep babies healthy.” I sure hope they are telling the young mothers to tell each other about the diseases that can be spread by roaches and rodents.

A few years ago, I took a young mother who lived in public housing under my wings. She was trying to put herself through college. On one of Nashville’s coldest days, she called me to say she was without lights. I arrived at her apartment and helped get the kids to my truck. Out the corner of my eye, what I thought was a rug tossed on the floor moved slightly. Upon seeing the rug move again, I tiptoed to inspect what I was seeing. The "rug" was not a rug, IT was several rats. I bit my tongue so hard to keep from screaming that I tasted blood. When a pest control professional wants to run, you got a serious problem. The rats were huddled together keeping warm because she had no heat. No lights, no heat. I was not surprised to learn later that her children were suffering from upper respiratory illnesses. I told her she needed to get out of the place for safety as well as health reasons. She had seen the rats do that before and said they were not the "big ones". I kill rats and had not seen that until that moment! I continued to push the issue and told her that her kids were not going to get well in that environment. I informed her sternly that rats are known to bite. She pointed out to me the bright side of the situation; with the heat being off, rats were not trying to come upstairs. I damn near drove off the highway trying to comprehend her logic!

Here's another one; same public housing, different mother, similar tale. I got a call from a mom who was barely eighteen and her six month old would not stop crying. I could hear the anxiety in her voice and I surely heard the baby cries through the phone. I knew something was wrong and asked if she had a pediatrician. Her preferred method of medical care was the emergency room. I called the only pediatrician's office I had in my cell phone, and worked out something for the young mom. The doctor’s office saw the baby right away and granted the mom some leniency with the payment. The doctor on call examined the fretful child with loving care. After a few minutes, he extracted a roach from the baby's ear canal. Pus was oozing from the child's ear like yellow lava and hearing her pitiful cries was heartbreaking. I helped the mom move that week. That was the first time I had seen a roach pulled from a baby's ear. I am now an old pro at checking crying babies’ ears for roaches.

I share these experiences not for humor but for education. Most individuals do not know how the lack of pest control affect our health and environment. When I share information with government buyers, who can make changes to help eliminate the problems, I am met with grunts and moans. I am always told that it is a problem that no one can solve. Whenever I address the relationship between pest control, sanitation, and illness in low income housing, I am met with blank stares. The correlation between the three is well documented and has been studied quite extensively worldwide.

Only in government housing will folks be allowed to live like this. The government sets up a system that perpetuates poverty, sickness and death and then sets up a program to study the program that it set up. Overlooking simple solutions is why most government programs become bad policies within a few years. Often, I remind government officials, from DC to Nashville, that the plague was spread by mice and flea bites. Everything old can be new again. Whoever thought we would be talking about the swine flu this week? I was a young girl during the Ford’s Administration but I remember my grandfather talking about the swine flu.

At one time, older women taught the younger ones. I can remember my grandmother giving me her sage advice about the goodness of Clorox. I was taught that a gallon of Clorox was part of your weekly grocery shopping. It was added to my dish water to clean my kitchen and my bathroom had to have the smell of Clorox or Pine Sol in it or it was not considered clean. Cleaning a kitchen with bleach is as old as time itself. Where do we find roaches mainly, in the kitchen? I have been in the pest control business for quite some time and nothing cleans up after roaches like Clorox. Will part of the education to young mothers in the Governor’s program include practical tips about sanitation and how important it is to maintain a clean home, especially around small babies and preemies? You cannot legislate common sense but some things in life must be taught in order for you to learn them.

I hope the folks that are trying to save our young children take a closer look at the pest management program that is set up in public housing. Eliminating the roaches and rodents should be a priority to helping create healthy environments for mothers, infants, and children. This is not a solicitation for my services by any means; I am in the business of making a profit so most government programs will not fit on my balance sheet. But I am very passionate about young children living in healthy environments, so I am praying for the success of the program. Now if anyone from the Governor’s group would like an escort to check out the units first hand, I will meet you there. By the way, wear a good pair of shoes; you will be learning a dance called, “STOMP!”

Governor Bredesen Press Release:


Photo credit: Divine Caroline

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