01/15/12 — Making health care accessible in schools

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Making health care accessible in schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 15, 2012 1:50 AM

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Diane Mullins, a physician's assistant in the WISH school-based health center at Wayne Academy, checks eighth-grader Goliath Wendell's reflexes. Clinics have been introduced in six Wayne County public schools since 1997, providing a variety of health care services for middle and high school students.

Since school-based health centers were introduced at two public schools in 1997, the service has expanded into six middle and high schools, with an average enrollment of 90 percent of students at each taking advantage of the access to health care.

"Because our centers provide comprehensive services -- we have a registered nurse, nutritional component, health education component and mental health component -- they can get it all right here," said Phyllis Hill, director of WISH, Wayne Initiative for School Health. "We're like a mini doctor's office providing all of these services to adolescents, middle and high school students."

The WISH Center originally launched at two schools, Goldsboro Middle and Brogden Middle, with funding from a three-year grant plus in-kind contributions from the county.

"The main players were Wayne Memorial Hospital, Wayne County Public Schools and Goldsboro Pediatrics, the Health Department and Department of Social Services and what was then Wayne County Mental Health, now Eastpointe," Mrs. Hill said. "All those partners still play a contributing part. Communities in Schools has also been a very active partner in this.

"We opened our first two centers in December (1997). By the end of the first school year, it was like five and a half months, we already had over 50 percent of the schools' population enrolled. That was major."

Enrollment simply consists of parental permission and documenting information, including insurance and health coverage.

"It's completed on an annual basis, so we do have access to medical records, immunizations," Mrs. Hill said. "No sick student that comes down here is turned away for lack of payment or lack of coverage."

Today the health centers are at Brogden Middle, Mount Olive Middle, Southern Wayne High, Dillard Middle, Wayne Academy and Goldsboro High schools.

The option is being credited with being more than a preventive health measures for students.

"Transportation has always been an issue and it's hard for folks to take off work and sit in a doctor's office," Mrs. Hill explained. "It's not just because of WISH, but our graduation rates are higher, our absenteeism is lower, in school/out of school suspensions have decreased.

"The WISH school-based health centers are providing comprehensive health services and seeing an average of 18 students per day. When you balance them all out, working to meet the medical, nutritional and mental health needs of our kids, our goal is to keep our children healthy and keep them in school."

Every WISH center has a full-time registered nurse, office assistant and nurse practitioner, a registered dietitian, health educator and counselor. It is open during school hours and takes appointments as well as walk-ins.

"We do physical exams. We treat acute and chronic illnesses like strep, pink-eye, asthma, ADD, ADHD," Mrs. Hill said. "It's important to note that our electronic medical records are connected to Goldsboro Pediatrics, so that we're providing better continuity of care.

"We're accessible. They feel very comfortable coming in to WISH. We don't turn anyone away that has a signed parental form."

WISH has also received much attention beyond Wayne County, garnering grants and awards over the years, including a $10,000 national award for the school system in 2005, the National Civic Star Award.

And one of its biggest supporters has been Dr. David Tayloe of Goldsboro Pediatrics, who serves as WISH medical director.

"He has been a champion for children's health," Mrs. Hill said. "He has worked diligently in all areas of support for our children, especially in school-based services. He has been with us working with our legislators at the state level to promote quality health care and funding for our school-based health centers."

Tayloe recently received a lifetime achievement award for his dedication to the health of children and adolescents in N.C., presented by the American Academy of Pediatrics, N.C. Pediatric Society, School Nurse Association of North Carolina and the N.C. School Community Health Alliance.

"WISH really is quite a community collaborative," he said. "The hospital has helped immeasurably, as have the county commissioners, the Health Department and the Department of Social Services. Private sector mental health providers have also done their part to provide mental health services on-site at school for at-risk students.

"Goldsboro Pediatrics serves as the medical home for all enrollees who do not have another source of primary care in the community, and we take calls for WISH when the centers are closed."