ith the start of a new school year, state and local officials were emphasizing yesterday the importance of student health care, and the resources to make sure students - and parents - have access to it.
"Children who have health needs are children who are not going to be able to be successful academically," said state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who, along with John M. Colmers, the state secretary of health and mental hygiene, and several other officials, was visiting Baltimore County's Villa Cresta Elementary School in Parkville.
Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown was also on the health track yesterday, with plans to visit Lansdowne Middle's school-based health clinic, one of dozens in the state that typically cater to areas with students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
"It's one of the things that he has taken a very big interest in, and really wants to help spearhead any expansion that might be possible," said Mike Raia, a spokesman for Brown.
At Villa Cresta, Colmers discussed three "major health issues": immunization, oral health and insurance coverage.
While about 99 percent of Maryland students are vaccinated at the start of the school year, Colmers said, the latter two issues pose additional challenges.
"For many of us, it is something we don't even have to think about," Colmers said of oral health.
Dental disease can lead to serious injury or death, he added, referring to the case of a Prince George's County boy who died last year because of a lack of dental care. About 20 percent of children have dental decay problems, he said.
School screening programs are being explored to combat this problem, he added. In Baltimore County, more than 25 of the Title I schools have a "dental sealant" program, Colmers said.
"These are important first steps," he said.
Colmers described a health insurance program launched in July, after the General Assembly expanded coverage for parents - an area in which "we have not done a very good job," he said.
Now a family of three with an annual income of about $20,000 could be eligible for assistance, Colmers said, instead of the previous $7,000 threshold.
"At $7,000, it's hard enough to think about how you get a roof over your head and food on the table," Colmers said
Colmers said he has been trying to get the word out, working with schools, churches and volunteer organizations. He sported a sticker of a bandage on his hand that read "I'm covered" and "Health insurance is important for all Marylanders!" More than 8,000 people have enrolled since July, he said, and he hopes to have a total of about 33,000 parents covered.
A program for small businesses is also expected to launch, Colmers said, supplying subsidies to those often struggling to provide healthcare for employees.
Sharon Nickerson, Villa Cresta's school nurse, said she was "really glad to hear about the health initiatives."
Principal Kathleen Bishop said the school works to ensure parents have the necessary information about immunizations and services, something perhaps particularly helpful to the growing number of English-language learners coming through the doors of her school. Often, those students' parents don't know about the resources at their disposal, Bishop said.
"It helps them to be more aware," she said.