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Centering on wellness

School clinic helps keep youngsters in class

School clinic helps keep youngsters in class

March 31, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Melanie Sumpter, a registered nurse with the Washington County Health Department, is used to treating stomachaches and sore throats.

Reading minds is a sideline.

"It's a lot of reading between the lines. Just what is the problem, and how big is the problem, really?" Sumpter said of interpreting complaints presented by students at Western Heights Middle School's Wellness Center.

According to Sumpter, students who drop in are almost certain to return to class. Officials suggest the prognosis for the center is less clear.

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County Director of Nursing Susan Parks said last week that the health department had considered not renewing its contract for the center's services next year.

"We met, and we had talked about the difficulty of getting another vendor, and right now, it looks like we'll continue another year," Parks said.

County Community Partnership for Children and Families manages the grant that funds the center, the only one of its kind in Washington County.

About 2 percent of students who use the clinic end up going home, Sumpter said Monday. That's compared to 10 percent to 15 percent of students who go home from regular school nurses' clinics.

Center nurse practitioner Richard Haupt is authorized to write prescriptions and administer medications, while regular school nurses are not. Students at other clinics may receive medications only with prior parental approval.

Posters about respiration and the digestive tract adorn the walls of Haupt's examination room. They represent opportunities for "teachable moments" for students on the cusp of adulthood, he said.

Haupt makes judgments about whether students would feel better with medication or if they need further treatment from a physician. He writes referrals and helps parents find information about programs for health insurance.

Haupt also helps separate the big problems from the small, so parents don't have to take off work and students don't have to miss school.

"There's been a lot of cases like that, where we've been able to help the parents - working parents a lot of times - save a lot of time," Haupt said.

According to a consent form distributed to parents by the health department, health insurance companies sometimes are billed for services. No one is denied care, and parents are not billed.

Community Partnership Director Stephanie Stone said the health department has provided "super" staff for the center, and the two groups are working together to better the program.

"We have been working with them on some issues. They were feeling like maybe it wasn't a good match for them," Stone said of the health department's involvement in the center.

Officials associated with the service say the clinic has served as an Rx against absenteeism.

Parks said parents of 130 students during the 2002-03 school year gave permission for their children to visit the center if they needed medical care during the school day. This year, 443 children have permission to use the center's services, 50 more than last year.

Parks said the number of student visits also increased, from 594 visits in the 2002-03 school year to 733 visits last year. And 335 students sought services at the center between the beginning of the school year and December 2004.

Attendance has increased from 90 percent to 96 percent over the last year, Parks said.

"The idea is, keep the children feeling healthy and staying in school," Sumpter said.

According to Sumpter, the center has tried to promote fitness programs - a yoga class could start this spring - and it has participated in anti-smoking events.

Sumpter, who also spends time at Northern Middle School, said she would like to expand the center's services. She said she believes the center helps students in the throes of adolescence both physically and emotionally.

"We have been able to do a lot here, and I'd like to see us be able to continue it next year," Sumpter said.

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