'Wellness center' opens at Hillendale Elementary

November 05, 1994|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

Going to the nurse's office at Hillendale Elementary School may not be as much fun as it used to be.

Youngsters will still get kind words and prompt care, but they also might get a shot or give up a little blood. They'll even be able to go there for regular checkups and attention to chronic ailments.

All this medical attention takes place in Hillendale's new "wellness center," the first of its kind in a Maryland elementary school -- although Baltimore County and other jurisdictions have put the centers in high schools. Operating since September, the Hillendale center near Towson was officially opened yesterday with cake and a ribbon-cutting.

The first 100 youngsters who signed up for the center's services received T-shirts, and county politicians stopped in to talk about the connection between being healthy and learning.

Staffed two days a week by pediatric nurse practitioners from the Baltimore County Health Department, the clinic "can provide the bulk of the health care that children need," said Beth Miola, a nurse practitioner from the University of Maryland School of Nursing, who works with the centers.

"The idea is to get the health care to the kids" in areas where their families do not have ready access to it, she said. Some families, she said, may not be able to afford treatment. Others, who work long hours, may not have cars and find it difficult to get to a doctor or clinic. Providing preventive care and treating sick youngsters quickly will also reduce absenteeism, she said.

Expanding on the services of the school nurse, the nurse practitioners at Hillendale administer routine preventive care, such as physicals, lab tests and immunizations. They also treat sick youngsters and write prescriptions.

"What we see here is the same things you see in kids anywhere," said Jane Wyatt, one of the nurse practitioners assigned to Hillendale. In the spring, the center will offer fifth-graders the physicals and immunizations they need for middle school.

The center is open only to those Hillendale students whose parents give permission for the children to be treated. About 125 of Hillendale's 590 youngsters have been enrolled so far, said Hillendale's full-time school nurse, Kathleen Slowik.

"We had a real good response. I think we're going to be real busy for a while," she added.

"When I first heard about it, I thought it was a good idea -- taking care of things right here," said Robin Carter, the mother of a Hillendale kindergartner. She has enrolled her daughter, but hasn't used the service yet.

"If necessary, I would use it for physicals," said Ms. Carter, who does have health insurance.

Services beyond those normally provided by a school nurse are not free. If a family has insurance or is eligible for medical assistance, the school system's Office of Third Party Billing will charge those health providers for care. Families without coverage will be charged according to the county's sliding scale based on income, said Ms. Slowik.

The third-party billing office, which seeks reimbursement from government and independent agencies for special education and health services the schools provide, provides money to start the centers and billing services to keep them going, said Judi Wallace, supervisor of the billing office. It is also paying the salary of a full-time social worker at the Hillendale center.

"We target federal Medicaid funds to expand health services to children," said Ms. Wallace, whose office has collected more than $1 million a year for the schools over the last few years. "Basically, a wellness center is for families in need who don't have any health insurance," she said, adding that the service teaches children and their families about "positive health behaviors."

The county has other wellness centers at Lansdowne Middle School and Woodlawn and Kenwood high schools. It plans to open centers in six more schools early in 1995, and at least two additional ones next fall.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.