School-based health centers: frontlines of student wellness

School-based health centers: frontlines of student wellness

Carmen Edwards, school patient care technician, tends to a student at Campbell Drive Elementary School.

Tanya Silver fiddles with her hands and has a flush look on her face as the patient care technician at her middle school listens to her heart. The 14 year-old felt a heavy pain on her chest and went to her school-based health center to be examined. Silver (named changed to protect her identity) told the staff she thought she might be having a heart attack.

“She came in with chest pains and we are trained to recognize children with personal problems,” said Carmen Edwards, the school patient care technician. “I checked her and everything was fine. So I started to ask deeper questions. She finally told me that both of her parents had passed away and that she saw her father kill her mother and then he killed himself.”

Edwards and the other staff members knew the issue was not medical and instead connected Silver to see mental health specialists. Its one of so many times that the staff from Community Health of South Florida Inc. (CHI) made a major difference in the life of a child at one of CHI’s 31 school-based health centers.

School-based health centers are on the front lines of detecting and preventing school violence, bullying and other mental health issues. It is a major issue on the White House agenda as President Barack Obama tries to find ways to prevent another tragic school violence rampage.

“I truly believe that if all schools would have school-based health centers, tragic incidents like school shootings, bullying, and spreading epidemics will decrease drastically,” said Jamika Hicks-Johnson, a CHI nurse practitioner at Campbell Drive Elementary School.

Silver, like so many other children from disadvantaged homes, did not have a family pediatrician. The soaring costs of healthcare has left too many families unable to afford medical care. When children are not healthy they skip school and lose out on learning.

That is why the 31 school-based health centers operated by Community Health of South Florida play such a vital role in the health and education of Miami-Dade County Public School Students. Each health center is located in a public school and serves as a doctor’s office in that school.

“Our school based health centers have a one stop shopping model,” said Brodes Hartley Jr., president and CEO of CHI. “They are designed to care for every aspect of the child. The student can get their vaccines, the staff can write prescriptions and electronically send them to the student’s pharmacy of choice. This is not your typical school nurses office. We have nurse practitioners that can diagnose and medicate serious issues and save lives.”

School-based healthcare centers have helped to significantly cut down on absentee rates, keeping children healthy and in class.

As access to healthcare becomes more cumbersome, more and more families and students are relying on school-based health models. It’s a trend nationwide that school districts are implementing and fostering. School-based health centers are quickly becoming a necessity at taking a holistic approach to educating our nation’s children.

“The responsibilities of a school are so great,” Hartley said. “Educating students has evolved to much more than just class instruction. Today schools are a place where health, nutrition, dental and mental health are just as important.”

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