ALBANY — In March, Live Oak and Robert Harvey elementary schools opened school-based health centers as part of the Dougherty County School System’s wrap-around services. Superintendent Ken Dyer initiated these services in 2014 as a way to meet non-academic needs — such as food, health care, etc. — that may prevent a child from learning.
Clifton Bush, COO of Albany Area Primary Health Care, oversees school-based health centers in various counties. According to Bush, the medical clinic at Turner Elementary School “can see anywhere from 200 to over 300 patient encounters a month.” Dental clinics at the centers aren’t open every day, only one to two days a week, so they don’t see as many patients. The vision clinic at Alice Coachman Elementary School, however, is available Monday through Thursday and “can see from an estimated 150 to over 200 patient encounters a month.”
Kathleen Harvey, a nurse practitioner at Robert Harvey Elementary, has been a nurse for 30 years and said she was hired specifically for school-based health. Asked if she noticed any differences between what she encounters at the school clinic versus a standard family clinic, Harvey said the elementary clinic takes a more pre-emptive approach to children’s health care.
“With kids, we do a lot more preventative (care) than in a regular clinic,” Harvey said. “We do sick calls, but most of ours are well visits and asthma checks. Because we’re in here with them every day, we’re trying to stop them from having those urgent issues.”
Harvey said the Robert Harvey clinic also focuses on weight issues.
“I don’t see much ADHD,” she added. “There’s a few but not many.”
Bush said something he wants the public to understand about school-based health centers is, “they are just like a regular medical office.”
“We have medical providers on staff that can do the same thing outside of the office,” Bush said. “And we’re available. Even if a child outside has a primary care provider, we’re not here to take anybody’s (patients). We’re here if parents can’t get off work, for those barriers to the care that individuals may have, just in case it’s needed.”
Bush said the services Robert Harvey’s clinic provides include acute sickness visits, wellness exams for children and adults, immunizations and many types of lab tests such as CBC (complete blood count) tests, flu tests and strep throat tests.
“Any lab that can be done at East Albany Pediatrics — which is one of our clinics that’s outside the school — we can do here,” Bush said.
School-based clinics can provide these tests and services with resources from AAPHC. With the aid of $4.7 million of annual federal funding, AAPHC provides equipment, nurses and a sliding scale for payment. Based on factors such as household size and income, families can get discounts on their medical, dental, vision and behavioral visits to school-based clinics. Anyone can apply for the program.
If a child requires medication, the federal 340B Drug Discount Program provides discounts through pharmacies contracted with AAPHC. Bush said AAPHC contracts with about 28 pharmacies. The nurse practitioners and physician assistants at the school clinics can prescribe medication just like a doctor. Pediatricians also supervise the school health care professionals.
Bush said he wanted to get involved in school-based health care because he “love(s) helping take care of the people and eliminating those barriers to care that they may have.” He noted that one barrier to care is the lack of transportation. He offered an example of a child in Dooly County who went to a school-based clinic for a sports physical and was in dire need of medication.
“Their blood sugar was over 300; that’s very high,” said Bush. “We called the medication in to the pharmacy (and) talked to the guardian. The guardian never mentioned that they didn’t have transportation. They just said, ‘Okay, well I’ll go get the medication.’ The next day, we put the child back on the schedule for a nurse visit to check (and) make sure that their grandmother got the medication. The child came in, we did check their blood sugar, and it wouldn’t even register on our machine. … If the grandmother had told us (they didn’t have transportation), we would’ve had the medication delivered to their home.
“Anyways, we had to get that child to the emergency room. They were admitted to ICU. When they got there, their blood sugar was over 600. If that child never came (to the school clinic), something worse could’ve happened to the child.”