04/29/04 — State health director commends Wayne for school health clinics

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State health director commends Wayne for school health clinics

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 29, 2004 2:05 PM

The state health director commended Wayne County for having health clinics in four of its schools. She also said she wished the state would increase the ratio of nurses to students.

Dr. Leah Devlin visited Dillard Middle School along with local school officials, county commissioners and school board members. Dillard is one of four middle schools in the county with a WISH clinic. WISH stands for Wayne Initiative for School Health.

"We have the same goals," she told those in attendance. "We want children to be able to be attentive, be able to feel good to learn, so that they can be successful in school."

She said that student health is a priority.

"Over 110,000 children have chronic diseases and conditions that have to be managed in schools," she said. "We send our children off to school every day at-risk. Over 8,000 every year are picked up by an ambulance and taken to a doctor or a dentist for an emergency and miss a half day of school."

She expressed concern that the ratio of nurses to students in North Carolina is 1 to 2,100 as compared with the national ratio of 1 nurse for every 750 students.

"We need to do at least what the nation's doing," she said.

Dr. Devlin said she hoped more money would come from the General Assembly. She added that $6.5 million in grants for school nursing services will also be awarded this summer.

Dr. Dave Tayloe, chairman of the WISH Board of Directors, said it is difficult to keep the programs running. Typically, he said, grants are given to new programs, but most of the money given when the clinics were introduced seven years ago will soon run out.

"Right now we're looking at an $85,000 shortfall," he said. "If we dwindle down our funding, certainly in six to 12 months we'll be in crisis. We're going to have to figure out a way to make ends meet."

Shirley Sims, co-chairman of the WISH Task Force, said that many students in the schools where there are clinics have had "penny projects" to support the clinics.

"It doesn't amount to a lot but shows good faith that children do what they can to keep the centers open," she said.

The four schools with clinics are Dillard, Goldsboro, Brogden and Mount Olive middle.

Tayloe said the statistics from the program have been impressive.

Among those cited were an 85 percent reduction in the pregnancy rate among girls between 10 and 14 years old; 10,058 visits to clinics for diagnosis and treatment of communicable infections; and 200 children receiving medical exams that may have been their first in several years.

"Absenteeism rates are down," he said. "Kids don't go to the emergency rooms as much since they have the centers on site.

"But perhaps the most amazing statistic is that 80 percent of the students are enrolled at the centers, and 95 percent of those access mental health services."

Dr. Jonathan Barnes, a psychologist and clinical director of the Eastpointe public mental health agency, said that mental health is sometimes overlooked.

"In the old days, they would suspend a child, even give in-school suspension," he said.

"Under this model, if kids are acting up in school, we get them to a counselor in the center and ask what's the problem that they can't function in a classroom. You'd be amazed at what they're finding out."

He said it is important to look at the psychological factors that make one child a success and another a failure.

Tania Horton, principal at Dillard Middle, said the clinic has made a difference in many areas because students can be better educated on making wiser choices. "It really makes an impact on our students when they are not sure what to do," she said.

Earl Moore, principal at Brogden Middle, said he can't imagine the school without a clinic.

"It's an extension and an integral part of academics in our program," he said. "Our job and our role is to keep kids in school. WISH is important and is making a difference for the children at Brogden Middle School."

Dr. Lee Ray Bryant, principal of Goldsboro Middle, said he hopes the clinics will continue at the schools because they do a lot of good.

"It keeps kids from going home, pretending to be sick when they're not," he said.

Richard Sauls, principal at Mount Olive Middle, said he knew of at least four children at the school who were identified with life-threatening diseases that would have gone unnoticed were it not for the clinic.

School board member Rick Pridgen said it is not unusual to hear about life-changing experiences at the clinics.

"There are children that are living today because something was diagnosed early at a WISH center," he said.

He expressed gratitude to those who brought the clinics to Wayne County, "not only for the dramatic life-changing things but for all the things you do for our children."