Kensington group says mobile toilets helping slow hepatitis A infection rate

Paul Kurtz
October 04, 2019 - 12:49 pm
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — City officials say they're seeing signs of success in their efforts to contain a hepatitis A outbreak in Kensington, thanks to a number of initatives, including the recent rollout of mobile public restrooms. But there's more work to be done.

Health and Human Services Chief of Staff Kathleen Grady says there were more than 320 confirmed cases of hep A in the most recent survey, but they're no longer seeing exponential growth. She credits an aggressive vaccination campaign for that and is hopeful that the two newly installed mobile public restrooms along Kensington Avenue corridor add another layer of safety. 

"We're hopeful that we're getting a hold on it," Grady said. 

The public restroom pilot program is funded by the city and run by staff members and volunteers at Prevention Point, a Kensington community group.

"This has clearly been embraced by the community that is using them," Grady said. "This is a service that they need." 

The public restroom pilot program is funded by the city and run by staff members and volunteers at Prevention Point, a Kensington community group.
Paul Kurtz/KYW Newsradio

Kerri Hartnett, with Prevention Point, says the facilities accomodate hundreds of people every day, while also providing a captive audience for her team.  

"While the bathroom monitors are monitoring the bathroom, they're learning people's names, and they're able to engage them beyond just the use of a public restroom. So they're referring people to needed services. They're able to tell people where they can go for hepatitis A vaccines."

One curbside restroom pod is located right outside the organization's headquarters at Kensington Avenue and Monmouth Street, and another is located a couple of blocks away on the avenue. They're open every day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and there has been no shortage of users. The city is considering leaving them open until midnight and adding a third location.  

Hartnett says the hep A outbreak has been fueled in part by a severe shortage of public restrooms. She looks at the units as sanitary sanctuaries for those most at risk: people addicted to opioids, and people who are homeless. 

"So hepatitis A is spread through sanitation isssues like feces, unwashed hands. So inability to use public restrooms is a big thing for people here in Kensington," Hartnett said. "So having public restrooms is just one tool in a toolbox of many needed to fight this outbreak."

Steve Silbert is a bathroom monitor.

"Usually you get five minutes. If there's no one in line, you get a little extra time to do what you gotta do. You gotta leave your bags outside," Silbert said.

Kerri Hartnett, with Prevention Point, says the hep A outbreak has been fueled in part by a severe shortage of public restrooms.
Paul Kurtz/KYW Newsradio

 
Kathleen Grady is also monitoring the situation from the City Managing Director's Office. The Health and Human Services chief of staff believes the city-funded restrooms, along with an agressive vaccination campaign, will play an important role in cutting down the number of people who contract hep A.  

"The latest numbers that I have is Sept. 16, and we were at 324 confirmed cases. But the good news is that we're no longer seeing exponential growth," Grady said.
 
The bathroom pilot program will run through the end of December.