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The Niagara County Healthy Neighborhoods Program is beginning its fourth year, with its three employees planning to go door-to-door in the new year in poor areas of Niagara Falls and Olcott.

The program is one of eight in the state, funded in full by a federal block grant passed to the county through the state Health Department.

The grant totaled $123,900 in 1999 and will be increased to $135,882 for 2000. The funding is approved three years at a time. Its future is thus assured through September 2002.

During the year that ended Sept. 30, the three workers approached 4,189 dwellings. They only work on weekdays, so not everyone was home, but they were admitted to 1,133 homes. In another 643 cases, they were not allowed to make a full visit but did interview a resident at the door.

Program coordinator Gail M. Root said she and two public-health technicians target areas shown by census data to be economically depressed.

County Environmental Health Director James J. Devald said such a focus is required on the grant application the county had to fill out to obtain the money.

"Part of the application is (listing) the poor neighborhoods in the city," he said.

This year, they were in parts of all three cities in the county.

In Niagara Falls, Root said, their efforts were focused west of Hyde Park Boulevard.

In North Tonawanda, they worked between Vandevoort Street and the Niagara River.

In Lockport, the target area was bounded roughly by High, Washburn, North Transit and Caledonia streets.

Public Health Director David E. Wertman said, "It's pretty up-close and personal. There may be an adult who is eligible for managed care and isn't getting it or a child that needs Child Health Plus. They carry all kinds of information and make referrals to a lot of organizations."

Root said she and her colleagues carry carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors and batteries for existing ones.

At the request of the Niagara Falls Fire Department, the program has printed stickers for fuse boxes that advise residents of older homes to use only 15-ampere fuses.

Root said that some residents try to expand the capacity of an aging electrical system that was not designed for modern appliances by using 30-amp fuses. That can create a fire hazard, she said. The program's annual report says 100 15-amp fuses were supplied to residents in the past year.

Also distributed and installed are electrical outlet and switch-plate covers.

Her report said, "Unfortunately, there was one fatal fire (in Niagara Falls) during this time period. It was at a home that we had not yet visited. There were fires at dwellings that we did visit, but the residents were able to get out. We do not know how many lives may have been saved from the smoke detectors or batteries we provided."

In the 1,133 homes inspected during the 1998-99 fiscal year, smoke detectors proved a real shortcoming. There were 495 homes with inadequate detectors, 435 with nonfunctioning detectors and 114 with missing detectors.

The technicians were able to correct the detector problem on the spot in 493 cases, the report showed.

Living conditions also are a focus of the program. If the resident allows the technician inside, she checks for peeling paint, rodents and cockroaches, the presence of hot and cold running water, adequate heat and inquiries about whether anyone has asthma or whether there is a baby present.

"During this time period, 143 dwellings were found to have problems with inadequate heat, electricity or malfunctioning appliances," the report said.

Root said they don't encounter much suspicion or hostility.

"Most people seem to be very receptive and appreciative of the services," she said.

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