More local schools open school-based health centers

2013-12-15T23:15:00Z 2013-12-16T23:33:10Z More local schools open school-based health centersCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

Merrillville and Hobart high schools are the latest schools to join the trend of school-based health clinics.

During the fall, Merrillville School Corp., in partnership with Northshore Health Centers, opened Northshore at Merrillville High School Teen Health Center while St. Mary Medical Center and the School City of Hobart partnered to open the Brickie Community Health Clinic.

Northshore clinic is one of three offered to students in Lake and Porter counties. Northshore also operates health clinics at Edison Jr-Sr High School in Lake Station and a center next to Portage High School.

Merrillville's clinic is open to all students in the school district, saving parents from taking off work to take children to the doctor. The clinic is staffed by nurse practitioner Rachael Callaway and nurse assistant Migdalia Munoz. It is not currently opened to families, employees or the community. Services are free to students, but if there is insurance, it will be billed.

Merrillville High School Principal Mike Krutz said the center treats students minor ailments and keeps them in school. Merrillville's clinic offers pregnancy tests, ear infections, allergy treatment, asthma treatment and other acute health care needs. It is waiting approval to do immunizations.

All services are offered at Northshore's Edison clinic, said nurse practitioner Shelly Surber, who said they do sports physicals and immunizations along with all other health services.

Jan Wilson, Northshore's chief executive officer, said she established the first school-based clinic at Portage High School in 1995. Wilson said there are six Northshore sites serving 57,000 patients. Last year, there were 130,000 patient visits.

No child is refused care in any of the school-based clinics. Staff also can enroll students in the Hoosier health program.

When the Brickie Community Health Clinic was opened, St. Mary CEO Janice Ryba said it would provide access to needed health services and allow the hospital to provide education, preventive medicine and prompt attention to medical needs -- before they develop into more serious conditions. It is staffed by family nurse practitioner Julie Burk. It is open to all students and school employees.

EdisonLearning official Vanessa Ronketto said the company that operates Gary Roosevelt College and Career Academy considered a school-based health center.  

"We had hoped to open a health clinic in the old clinic space down by the gym but because the space had been so neglected over the years and is in need of extensive renovations (upwards of $100,000), we determined to put the concept on hold," Ronketto said.

Divya Mohan Little, spokeswoman for Chicago-based EverThrive Illinois,  said it can be expensive to start a school-based clinic -- about $200,000 to $300,000.

She said there are no school-based clinics in the south Chicago suburbs. "We haven't had the interest from them to create one," she said.

Hobart school superintendent Peggy Buffington said the school district provides the space while St. Mary Medical Center provides the staff, equipment and services for the health clinic.

She said the hospital sponsors the Parents as Teachers program, a parenting program for children from birth to kindergarten. The hospital also helped bring the first Teaching Garden to Hobart in addition to diabetes education, an emergency rescue technology class and student internships.

East Chicago Central High School Principal Lydia Jagger said they've had a health clinic at the high school for many years. She said a local doctor oversees it and it is staffed by a nurse practitioner.

"We offer all services to students, including zumba, dental, vision and hearing," Jagger said.

Four years ago, Calumet High School in the Lake Ridge Schools, opened Community HealthNet, a federally qualified community health center that provides comprehensive primary care health services and charges on a sliding-fee scale for services. The school district worked with CEO Dr. Janet Seabrook to establish the school-based clinic.

Lake Ridge Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley said it's been a great service to Lake Ridge students and the community.

"It's always packed over there. People have really taken advantage of it. The fees are on a sliding scale depending on ability to pay," she said. "For a community where unemployment is rampant, there is a need for this kind of service. We welcome the community to utilize these services. We're proud to have this clinic in our Lake Ridge school district."

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