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Valley Health benefiting students

Sep. 23, 2013 @ 10:53 AM

ONA -- Students at eight schools in Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln and Putnam counties are being afforded a health care option that aims to provide convenience, education and care through Valley Health Systems' school-based clinics.

The organization has hosted such clinics since 1995, when it first opened in Cabell Midland High School. Melanie Hall, an administrator with Valley Health, said they are able to provide a benefit to students who are ill or have health issues so they can get the care they need and get them back to class.

"Our goal is to keep students as healthy as possible so they can do well academically," Hall said. "It takes care of the situations where students can't get to a provider after school hours, don't have access in their community or can't afford it."

Terry Roberts, a board certified family nurse practitioner who heads the Cabell Midland clinic, said an example would be a student who woke up with a sore throat and clogged sinuses. That student can see her at the school rather than them missing classes and forcing parents to take time off work. Her colleague at Huntington High School, Traci Phillips, also a family nurse practitioner, said if it's something that needs a prescription, they can submit it to a pharmacy and be ready for pickup by the time the school day ends.

"Our goal is to provide quality, convenient health care to their kids," said Phillips, who also works at the Southside Elementary/ Huntington Middle clinic in the mornings.

They also tout the preventive care through physicals, flu shots and required immunizations. But nothing is done without parental consent, which is sought at the beginning of the school year. However, both Phillips and Roberts said they like to call parents regularly to make sure they are aware of what a child needs. That's especially true with the younger children, who need to go home if they are diagnosed with the flu, pink eye or strep throat.

All the schools also host mobile dental clinics through five different providers. Dr. Steve Beckett was at Cabell Midland Thursday doing routine checkups, something he said is a vital part of Valley Health's mission.

"It's reaching some of the kids that maybe don't get to the dentist regularly," Beckett said.

He said checkups are most common, and cleanings are done by a dental hygenist. X-rays also can be taken, while restorative work like fillings can be done as well.

"It's a good service and makes it easy to see somebody," he said. "If there is a problem, we can call attention to it and take care of it."

Anything the clinics can do is not meant to step on the toes of the family doctor, pediatrician or the school nurse, they said. They prefer to call it complimentary care and an opportunity to educate students about healthy lifestyle choices. That's why Phillips and Roberts have charts to discuss healthy habits with students.

That includes one hour of exercise each day, limiting screen time to two hours a day, eating five fruits or vegetables each day and avoiding consumption of sugary drinks.

But they would like more children to be able to have access to the care and education Valley Health wants to offer. It's not by opening more clinics, but building up the clinics that exist by doing a better job of informing parents and guardians.

That means, Hall said, reinforcing to parents that students cannot receive condoms or birth control, nor are they tested for sexually transmitted diseases. They can do that at a regular Valley Health location, but Hall said the respective boards of education chose not to make that a part of the school-based clinics.

Finally, there is the question of who pays the bills. Hall said as a community health center, they can bill private insurance. But they also have a sliding fee program for those without insurance. Generally, she said children are covered in some capacity.

"We truly appreciate our partnership with Valley Health Systems," said William Smith, the superintendent for Cabell County Schools. "By operating within our buildings, they are able to offer the kind of high-quality, direct care our students need. And, if students already have regular physicians, Valley Health can complement those services by offering immediate care for illnesses that crop up, helping students recover quickly and improving their attendance."

For more information about the school-based health centers, visit www.cabellcountyschools.com, where a parental consent form is linked under "Schools."

Parents also can contact Hall at 304-360-6775 or by email at mhall@valleyhealth.org.

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