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Health department, school system lack funds to staff wellness center at Boonsboro High

September 26, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Boonsboro High School Principal Peggy Pugh stands in the exam treatment lab of the wellness center at the school.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

BOONSBORO — Construction on the new wellness center at Boonsboro High School was completed in time for the new school year but there isn’t enough money to staff it, Washington County Health Department and Washington County Public Schools officials said.

After learning from the health department that there was no funding for the wellness center’s staff, Boonsboro High Principal Peggy Pugh said she made a plea in January to local health organizations in an effort to get more health services into the wellness center. One of those health organizations was Villa Maria, part of Catholic Charities.

Starting around the first week of October, Child & Family Services of Catholic Charities will have a staff member at the wellness center to provide basic mental-health counseling for students who are eligible through Medicaid and the Maryland Child Health Program, said Robert Canosa, director of community resources at Child & Family Services.

“We’re still looking for other funding to provide enhanced services,” such as training teachers to recognize students who might need mental-health services, Canosa said. Officials also are still looking for a partner to provide mental-health services for students who use commercial insurance, he said.

Catholic Charities provided mental-health services at Boonsboro Middle and Boonsboro High schools in the last school year, paying for the service with a grant from the Local Management Board, Canosa said. Catholic Charities doesn’t have that grant this school year, he said.

Pugh said the mental-health services started last school year as the school geared up for the opening of the wellness center.

The decision to put a wellness center at Boonsboro High came from a study that identified Boonsboro as an area in which a significant number of students didn’t have access to health care, including mental-health care, mainly because of cost and transportation, Pugh said. The study showed the greatest need was for mental-health services, she said. There had been a lot of deaths in students’ families in the area, she said.

The school wellness center program, run by the health department, is funded by a Maryland State Department of Education grant that has been cut by 5 percent two years in a row, including this fiscal year, said Carol Adams, the county health department’s program manager for school health.

Last year’s grant was $210,931, but that was cut 5 percent this year, Adams said.

With the cut, that left $200,384 this fiscal year to fund a program that already has three other school-based wellness centers.

The other wellness centers are at Western Heights Middle School in Hagerstown’s West End, South Hagerstown High School and Williamsport High School, Adams said.

The grant covers the staff’s time in the wellness centers and supplies for the centers, County Health Officer Earl Stoner said.

A part-time pediatrician, a full-time registered nurse, a part-time certified nursing assistant and a part-time licensed practical nurse work at the three active wellness centers, Adams said. The pediatrician spends eight hours a week at each of those centers, she said.

The wellness centers are like a typical doctor’s office, handling primary care matters like vital signs and illnesses such as the flu or a cold, but not emergency situations like stitches, Adams said.

Pugh said she’s hopeful the health department will find funding to provide general health services at Boonsboro High’s wellness center.

Adams said she doesn’t know when funding will be available to do that.

The school nurse is using the Boonsboro High wellness center space because the remodeling work incorporated the school nurse’s space, Pugh said. The school nurse now has a nurse’s station and an office in which she can store confidential files and medications.

The wellness center also has an exam room, a mental-health office and an office for the doctor and nurses, as well as three cots for patients, two bathrooms and a second nurse’s station, Pugh said.

The remodeling work moved a couple of classes around because the wellness center took up space from a previous life-skills classroom, Pugh said. The life-skills class took over a classroom across the hall that was being used for English. The English class was moved to another classroom, moving a social studies class into a portable classroom, Pugh said.

Renovations, which included creating the wellness center space and a kitchenette for the relocated life-skills class, cost $244,336, Deputy Schools Superintendent Boyd Michael said.

Most of that was paid for with a $225,000 Local Management Board grant, officials said.

The school system paid the remaining $19,336, Michael said.

The final cost of the center, including furnishings and equipment, wasn’t known yet, school system spokesman Richard Wright said.

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