04/28/04 — State Health Secretary learns of clinics' needs

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State Health Secretary learns of clinics' needs

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 28, 2004 2:12 PM

State Health Secretary Carmen Hooker Odom paid a visit Tuesday to one of the four school-based health clinics in Wayne County.

Local officials said it was important for the high-ranking state official to see the service firsthand, especially since the clinics are facing funding shortages.

"It's hard to tell someone about the centers," said WISH board member Shirley Sims. "You can't really describe it and so they have to come."

By 9 a.m., a dozen students had already been treated at the clinic at Goldsboro Middle School. Latest figures report that 1,292 students are enrolled at the four clinics, which are also at Brogden, Dillard and Mount Olive middle schools.

Dr. Dave Tayloe of Goldsboro Pediatrics is chairman of the WISH Board of Directors. He said Secretary Odom's visit could be critical to continued funding for the centers.

"We got $145,000 last year from the state for the four school-based centers," he said. "The commissioners gave us $105,000, and we also received in-kind donations and grants."

WISH, which stands for Wayne Initiative for School Health, was formed seven years ago. Most grants run out in three to five years, he said.

"We're looking at an $85,000 shortfall in our budget," he said. He said the board is faced with having to reduce service, and there is also the risk of losing accreditation.

"We really have to fight to keep the level up to qualify for maximum state funding, and state funding needs to be increased," he said.

Tayloe said the clinics, designed to provide affordable, accessible physical and mental health services to adolescents, have proven to be cost effective in the areas of in-school suspensions, pregnancy prevention and attendance.

He said there have been good, open discussions about the program with county commissioners and other political representatives. But the discussions, like the funding, need to continue.

"There's got to be somebody doing it right in a collaborative effort," Ms. Sims said. "So why not replicate it?"

Secretary Odom responded, "So much of this depends on the political willingness and others to do this. It's not easy to replicate it.

"But we certainly are committed to school-based health services in our department."

She said the ratio of school nurses to students in North Carolina is inadequate. She said that there are good models in the state such as the WISH centers, and "it would be really neat to just pluck them up," but funding programs is always a big challenge.

Wayne County Health Director Jim Roosen asked Ms. Odom about the possibility that money generated from cigarette tax could be applied. He said there could be up to $400 million available for school health programs.

Ms. Odom said that since this is an election year, it is unlikely that any tax increases will go through.

But she said she was impressed with the WISH initiative and the needs being met through the school-based clinics.

"This is really great," she said. "It's so exciting to see something that works."

Tayloe said the secretary's visit was an unexpected bonus. A scheduling conflict had prevented her from accepting an invitation to a meeting planned for today at Dillard Middle School.

Dr. Leah Devlin, state director of public health, committed to attend this afternoon's meeting with legislators and local officials.

"We collected data that convinces people that school-based health centers are cost effective," Tayloe said. "It is our job to make state officials understand, so we contacted legislators along with state government leaders to come look at our centers."

He said Dr. Devlin was receptive to visiting Wayne County.

Tayloe said, "Leah is in a position to help the secretary and others, including members of the General Assembly who are coming to town in another week or so, to understand the value of school-based education."