Medical care is right down school's hallway
By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on September 30, 2009 1:46 PM
Brogden Middle School nurse Angie Stroud, left, listens to ninth-grade student Cameron Gagne's heart rate in the WISH center at the school. She is one of six nurses in the Wayne County school system operating through the Wayne Initiative for School Health, which has been in place since 1997.
Students at six Wayne County schools have access to immediate medical care without having to wait for a parent to take them to the doctor.
The Wayne Initiative for School Health, or WISH program, was founded in 1997 through the combined efforts of Wayne Memorial Hospital, Dr. David Tayloe, the Duke Endowment and others involved with the WISH planning process. Since its inception, the program, which provides health care to students regardless of their ability to pay, has told hundreds of Wayne County kids to open up and say "aaah."
At the start of every school year, parents of students attending schools with WISH centers are given the choice of whether to sign their students up for participation in the program. The WISH centers are open every day that school is in session and provide care regardless of a family's insurance status or ability to pay, but the program does take insurance from those who have it and charges a fee for some services.
The diverse group of staff is designed to serve every aspect of a child's health. Paula Ivy is a nurse practitioner, Alice Summerlin is a registered nurse and Stephanie Howard is a registered dietitian with the Wayne County Health Department, and all three provide services to students at Mount Olive Middle School. A mental health professional also stops by for appointments.
"Many of our students, if we did not provide that (service), they would not get it," Ms. Summerlin said.
The WISH program strives to provide not only diagnosis and treatment of chronic and acute illnesses but also focuses on preventative services and health education. The centers can do nearly everything a normal doctor's office can do, from sports physicals to vaccinations and prescribing and administering medication. And just like a family doctor, practitioners at the WISH centers can also offer information and counseling about health issues such as preventing drug use and sexually transmitted diseases.
The center at Mount Olive Middle School has had a considerable impact on the students and on the culture of the school itself, principal Gail Sasser said.
"It has been established long enough now that the benefits still are in the providing medical services, providing intervention, but also maintaining student wellness, which increases attendance, student productivity," Mrs. Sasser said. "When that child knows they can come to school and they are going to receive services and can get services, they're going to make that choice to be in school. School is more of a safe place to them."
Mrs. Sasser has previously worked at schools that did not offer the WISH program, and said she can see the difference it makes in the day-to-day operations of a school.
"The level of security that it brings for the child is a major difference, and having the experience of working with schools that did not have the WISH center, you can sense that the whole school culture really feels healthier and safer," she said.
However, WISH is meant to be an additional resource, not a substitute for yearly checkups, Ms. Armstrong said.
The health care providers at the center develop a positive relationship with the children and teens at their schools, often getting to know the kids and seeing them through their years in the school system. Registered nurse Angie Stroud began working with the Brodgen Middle School WISH center in 1999, just a year after it opened, and has seen hundreds of adolescents go on to high school and beyond.
"You have a lot of kids who'll come back just to say hey, tell us they're going to college, keep us informed," Mrs. Stroud said.
The regular and easily accessible care was a fortunate thing for one young girl at Brogden, who visited the WISH center for a routine sports physical and was diagnosed with a chronic illness. That's just one example of how Wayne County children have benefited from the program, Mrs. Stroud said.
"Just a regular school nurse can't provide these things. I like what we do because we provide better care," she said. "Hopefully the preventative things we do now will help them make wise decisions in the future."