Community has vision of universal health care

March 05, 1995|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Sun Staff Writer

What the federal government couldn't do for Americans, a group of public and private agencies is doing for the residents of a West Baltimore community: Provide universal health care.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke led the cheers yesterday at the lively grand opening of the Gilmor Elementary School clinic in Sandtown-Winchester. The clinic at Gilmor and two others at nearby George G. Kelson and William H. Pinderhughes elementary schools are pieces of a health care quilt beginning to blanket the West Baltimore neighborhood.

The fancy name for this endeavor is Vision for Health, but the simple reality is that the 10,000 Sandtown-Winchester residents, of whom have no medical insurance, ultimately will have access to health services in their community.

"This is a great day the Lord has made!" said a beaming Mr. Schmoke, prompting applause from the residents and community leaders assembled in Gilmor's auditorium. "It's obviously a great day in Sandtown-Winchester."

The clinics at the community's three elementary schools opened Jan. 23. The official grand opening was yesterday. Pediatric nurse practitioners from the University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Nursing care for sick or injured students only from the three elementary schools. The nurse practitioners also offer comprehensive health care -- as does any citizen's primary physician -- for students who enroll in the clinic with their parents or guardians.

The idea is to teach children about health and to treat illnesses before they become serious. Many parents who have no family doctor or medical insurance end up taking their sick children to costly hospital emergency rooms.

The school clinics are part of a network of health services operating or planned in Sandtown-Winchester, the target of a comprehensive revitalization program. Those services include a health care clinic for adults. The Kelson clinic will be opened to all young people in the community up to age 18 next year.

"We're embarking on a progressive, collective course, a true public-private partnership for health," Mr. Schmoke said.

Marching bands pepped up the neighborhood before yesterday's late-morning ceremony at Gilmor. The city health department, Bon Secours Hospital, Community Building in Partnership, Liberty Medical Center, Total Health Care, UMAB School of Nursing and University of Maryland Medical System are part of the effort in Sandtown-Winchester.

Initial funding for Vision for Health came largely from private foundations, including the Pfizer, Robert Wood Johnson and Kellogg foundations. Money to maintain services will come from insurance reimbursements, the agencies and hospitals.

"We have children here who've never been seen by a health care provider," said Dr. Barbara Heller, dean of the UMAB School of Nursing. "We've even seen adults who've never been seen by a provider."

Pat Papa, the nurse practitioner at Gilmor, said she has treated students for everything from strep throat to anemia. Ms. Papa said she gave immunization shots to a 5-year-old girl who apparently never had been to a doctor.

"No child ever will be turned away, regardless of whether their parents have the money," Ms. Papa said. "They can get the same care as someone who has the best insurance plan in the world."

Her first patient was a cute 6-year-old named Candace Taylor. Candace had an earache. Yesterday, she and a brother and sister who also attend Gilmor, Gary, 7, and Shantel, 5, helped Mr. Schmoke and other dignitaries cut the red ribbon marking the clinic's opening.

Their mother, Tanya Taylor, 33, who has six children, said Ms. Papa provides better and quicker service than the clinic where she had been taking the children. Candace had suffered earaches before, Ms. Taylor said, but it took Ms. Papa to discover that a "foreign object" was embedded inside her ear.

A foreign object? Yes, Ms. Taylor said, a tiny bead, apparently from a child's jewelry kit given at Christmas. Ms. Papa referred Candace to specialists at Mercy Medical Center. Her appointment is tomorrow.

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