Not too long ago when students at Dominguez High School in Compton got sick, the only option was a trip to the nurse’s office. At best, the nurse was equipped with a thermometer, a tongue-depressor and a hard vinyl couch where students could recline until a parent arrived. Fast forward to health care delivery in 2013.
Now students are able to walk a few yards on campus to visit a brightly colored, full-scale health clinic, complete with doctors, nurses, dentistry services and even a small scale pharmacy. The St. John’s Well Child & Family Center at Dominguez High School is one of eight new school -based clinics in the Second District , with an on-site health clinic available not only to students but to the community at large. In addition, seven more centers serving both students and families are expected to open in the next five months. Establishing school based clinics has been a priority for Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has secured $4.1 million in county funds and partnered with the Los Angeles, Compton and Lennox Unified School Districts to build the centers.
“These clinics are an integral part of a community,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “This is where easy access to medical care and preventing illnesses begins.”
As part of a national emphasis on preventive care, nearly 2,000 school-based health centers have been opened nationwide, according to the most recent National Assembly on School-Based Health Care census.
At these clinics, students and their families can be treated for acute illnesses, such as the flu, or chronic conditions, such as asthma and diabetes . They can receive pre-natal care, reproductive health care, immunizations, dental care, vision and treatment for hearing problems. The Dominguez High School clinic is expected to open full time in March.
“We really want to be seen as a medical home not just for students but for communities that we serve,” said S. Nomsa Khalfani, chief of Policy and Support Services St. John’s Well Child & Family Center. “Some people think of a school – based clinic as a nurse’s office. But this is like walking into any other doctor’s office.”
Khalfani said lack of easy health care access can adversely impact a child’s education. Recently, one student at Dominguez was missing days of school, prompting administrators to find out why. They discovered he was sick but had not gone to the doctor because his family lacked insurance. The clinic, which has been operating on a part – time basis since September, was able to treat him and follow up with the family to make sure he was recovering.
“Enabling students, [or their parents] to have access to healthcare without missing school or work so they can go to the doctor is important,” said Khalfani. “Schools are a hub where families get resources and where students and families can get help quickly.”
At other school clinics , such as the Jefferson High School Wellness Center, operated by South Central Family Health Center, students come in frequently for non-urgent illnesses like colds or stomach ailments. But they are also using the clinic to get questions answered about contraception and the threat of sexually transmitted diseases. Approximately a quarter of all chlamydia and gonorrhea infections in Los Angeles County in 2010 were diagnosed in South Los Angeles, according to the STD Morbidity Report for Los Angeles County.
“There are a lot of children who do not know or do not think they will get it,” said Dr. Gustavo Roldan, the on-site physician at Jefferson. “ But there are a high percentage of kids getting STDs like gonorrhea or chlamydia. There is definitely a lot of peer pressure to have sex.”
To help in student outreach, Genevieve Filmardirossian, associate director and chief operations officer of South Central Family Health Centers and her staff meet with school administrators once a month to discuss student and community needs.
She also plans to hire two students to serve as “teen workers” to conduct presentations to the students about health related issues like obesity and peer pressure. Zaira Castro, 16, wants to be one of the teen workers to help her classmates understand that the decisions they make in haste could end up causing them major problems in the future. She sees friends with terrible nutrition habits, eating too much junk food. Other friends are sexually active but not physically active, she said.
“I don’t know if they have all the information on the consequences of what can happen. It is easier to influence them if it’s by someone their age,” said Castro, who wants to be a psychiatrist. “If an adult is telling me what to do I wouldn’t pay attention but they will listen to me because I am a teen.”