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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : features : vitality September 14, 2014

4/20/2013 9:57:00 PM
School-based healthcare makes the grade in the quad-cities
Yavapai Regional Medical Center

Asthma, ear infections, flu, pink eye, pneumonia, strep, sprains and the more-than-occasional cold - you'll find them in every Arizona school. In the quad-cities, there's an antidote for these and other ailments.

Partners for Healthy Students (PHS) - launched by Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC) in 1999 - is a school-based healthcare program that provides primary, preventive, oral, vision and other healthcare services to students in the Chino Valley, Humboldt and Prescott Unified School Districts.

PHS is among 1,800 school-based health programs in the U.S. and 43 in Arizona. These programs serve a total of 1.8 million children and adolescents nationwide and 20,000 in Arizona. They're a major, but often unrecognized, component of the nation's healthcare safety net. Most operate as partnerships between schools and community health organizations to care for students from uninsured and underinsured families as well as insured families with high insurance deductibles.

PHS receives more than 95 percent of its funding from YRMC, which no doubt allowed it to survive the economic downturn, when other school-based clinics were forced to close. PHS is licensed as an outpatient treatment facility by the Arizona Department of Health Services and conducts approximately 1,200 visits each year. In addition to the school-age children, PHS also cares for their younger, pre-school siblings.

"YRMC believes that it is our community responsibility to care for the children of the quad-cities," said PHS Program Manager Mary Ellen Sandeen, RN, MSN, CPNP (Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner). "We want to make sure our children stay healthy and stay in school."

YRMC also recognizes that a school-based healthcare center is a more efficient way to care for common childhood illnesses than the hospital's Emergency Department, where many uninsured families with no other alternative turn when their children are ill. A recent Johns Hopkins University study confirmed that school-based healthcare centers reduce inappropriate use of emergency departments among regular users of the centers.

In February, PHS joins a national and statewide celebration of school-based healthcare programs. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a proclamation declaring February "School-Based Healthcare Awareness Month." The proclamation recognizes school-based healthcare programs for supporting working parents, encouraging the use of appropriate healthcare services and improving the health status of children.

Along with Sandeen, the PHS team includes Medical Director and Pediatrician, James Mick, MD, and Systems Coordinator Nancy Gloyd. Sandeen and Gloyd work together to organize and deliver care on-site at elementary, middle and high schools spread across the three districts. Their services range from conducting sports physicals each August and September to operating full-day clinics at the schools throughout the academic year. They also conduct educational in-service programs for the districts' school nurses.

Donna McBroom, RN, District Nurse-High School Nurse, Chino Valley Unified School District, notes that the students benefit from the relationships PHS has developed.

"If we didn't have PHS, I'm sure our absenteeism rate would increase," said McBroom. "Because PHS is here, the kids are in school and learning."

Nancy Vallely, RN, Lead Nurse, Humboldt Unified School District, echoes this.

"PHS is an amazing resource," she said. "It's impressive that in some cases Mary Ellen will call the family and the school nurse to follow-up after a visit. All of the school nurses are glad Mary Ellen is only a phone call away."

Sally Wetten, RN, BSN, School Nurse, Mile High Middle School, Prescott Unified School District (PUSD), recalls that during the course of a recent routine examination of a student, Sandeen identified a major health issue.

"Not only did she identify the issue, she also made arrangements for the child to receive additional care," Wetten said. "That student is now back in school and doing great."

April Boothe, RN, Certified School Nurse, PUSD, remembers what it was like for uninsured families before PHS was available.

"I was here when we first began advocating for school-based healthcare and I've seen its benefits through the years," she said. "It's a good thing that hard-working families in our community have this healthcare safety net available for their children."

The "community partnership" aspect of PHS is critical to the program's success. PHS collaborates with many organizations and individuals to bring healthcare resources to the area's uninsured children. Some PHS partners include, for example, community physicians, Arizona Public Service Company, Arizona Head Start, Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind, Yavapai County Community Foundation, Prescott Sunrise Lions Club, and the Kiwanis Club of Prescott.

"Keeping children in school, healthy and learning is so important to the future of our community," Sandeen said. "PHS is a valuable community benefit that demonstrates YRMC's dedication to its Mission, Vision and Values."

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