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November 30, 2012
In Baltimore city, health officials say that increasing numbers of public school students are suffering from complex health problems, such as asthma, epilepsy, diabetes and allergies. However, health care still consists mainly of health aides in most local schools. This month, a pilot program kicked off that will give students who have minimum health care at their school access to a neighboring school’s fully-staffed, health center. WYPR’s Gwendolyn Glenn has more.
Gwendolyn Glenn: This blood pressure machine is used often at Dunbar High’s health center. The school is one of only 17 in the city and 71 statewide that have a fully-staffed health center. In addition to a registered nurse, a medical assistant, health aide and a mental health professional, it has a full-time nurse practitioner. School principal Kristina Kyles.
Kristina Kyles: Our nurse practitioner can do sports physicals, so our students can come here and get a full physical work up for their athletics. Another nice thing about our clinics is our students can do things like family planning.
Glenn: The nurse practitioner also writes prescriptions for the more than 800 students,, does immunizations, handles major illnesses, such as asthma attacks and consults with a part-time, on site physician. But the National Academy Foundation Middle/High School. NAF has only two nurses and two part-time health aides for its more than 800 students. Through the pilot program, NAF’s students can now take a short walk across the schools’ shared courtyard to get preventive and comprehensive care at Dunbar’s health center.
Ayanna Rodgers: What it means for us is anytime our nurses are either busy with students, those students if they have an immediate need, they are able to can get the care they need in a timely manner.
Glenn: NAF’s assistant principal Ayanna Rodgers says it will also mean fewer students with serious health issues will end up in emergency rooms. That would have been the normal procedure last week when a NAF student had an asthma attack and the school nurse was out of the building.
Rodgers: That student was sent over to Dunbar and they didn’t have to wait for our nurse to return and we didn’t have to call our local Fire Department or thel EMTs to come out.
Glenn: State regulations require all schools to have at a minimum a health aide. However, if a school has more than 750 students it must have a full-time registered nurse.
Nicole Johnson: A health aide can do a lot and provide some support, but the health disparities we’re seeing in East Baltimore and across the city, young people need more than that.
Glenn: Nicole Johnson sits on the Maryland Association of School-Based Health Centers board and is senior director for Elev8 Baltimore. Elev8 is working to turn around low-performing schools in East Baltimore. They upgraded the clinics in their schools with full-time registered nurses and part-time nurse practitioners. Johnson thinks all schools should have this type of health care.
Johnson: We have to look at ways to go beyond the policies and really look at the needs of young people and making sure young people have ongoing support for prevention rather than just emergency care.
Glenn: According to an Annie E. Casey Foundation study, in 2009 more than six percent of Baltimore city students did not have health care. That’s a reason Karen Ndour, the district’s executive director for student support thinks the pilot program is so important.
Ndour: We assume that students have services that they don’t have. Every child does not have a private physician, every child doesn’t go to the doctor once a year for a check-up, so if those school resources exist in certain schools, we just want it to have a broader reach.
Glenn: The city and school district spent about 17 million dollars on school health care last year. They say there’s no funding for new clinics, but hope the pilot program will provide ammunition to attract outside funding. I’m Gwendolyn Glenn reporting in Baltimore for 88 1, WYPR.
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