Jefferson County gets new school clinics

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 25, 1999

Jefferson County school children who have suffered with such conditions as asthma, epilepsy or hypertension have a much better chance of being diagnosed starting Jan. 3. When students and faculty of the Jefferson County School District return to classes after the holidays, they will have a new school clinic at Jefferson County High School and another at Jefferson County Middle School. The clinics are funded through federal and state grants and provide primary and preventive health services to children in grades K-12 and faculty of the school system.

&uot;We will treat episodic and chronic illness as well as eating habits,&uot; said Fayette pediatrician Dr. Salim Bharwani, who will help oversee the school clinics.

&uot;We will see between 85 percent and 90 percent of the children in the school district before the end of school,&uot; said Gloria Areghan, nurse practitioner at the high school clinic.

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Areghan and staff follow a health plan for the school district developed by Bharwani.

The Jefferson County School District maintained a school nurse prior to the school clinics, but the new clinics bring a new level of medical care previously unavailable.

The high school clinic will have a nurse practitioner, licensed practical nurse and clerk on staff. The middle school clinic will have a nurse practitioner, licensed practical nurse and two clerks on staff. The nurse practitioner can take vital signs, give shots and insert intravenous medications if necessary in the school clinic.

Part of the mission of the school based clinics is to not only diagnose and treat students with illness, injury or disease, but to educate students on healthier lifestyles and to learn where the toughest health care battles are in the school aged population. Before students can be treated at the clinic, consent forms must be signed by parents allowing for diagnosis and treatment of children, Areghan said.

A questionnaire called the Youth Risk Behavior Survey will be given to children school-wide to assess health risks to students.

&uot;We will administer the survey at the beginning and end of the school year,&uot; Bharwani said. &uot;This will tell us about illnesses, eating habits and more. This is the standard tool used by the Centers for Disease Control to monitor youth behavior.&uot;

The 1,600-plus students in the district will now have greater access to healthcare services courtesy of two grants awarded to Jefferson Comprehensive Health Center in Fayette.

The health center received $194,000 from the Mississippi Qualified Health Center Grant Program and $200,000 in federal grant money, said Shirley Ellis, executive director of the Jefferson Comprehensive Health Center.

Funds for the MQHC Grant Program were appropriated by Mississippi lawmakers during the 1999 Legislative session for the purpose of creating a health care &uot;safety net&uot; for Mississippi’s medically under served populations. The two grants will fund the school clinics for the next five years at which time the Jefferson Comprehensive Health Center can reapply for grant funding.

Bharwani helped Ellis write the grants that are funding the clinics.

The program is administered through the Mississippi State Department of Health and will be responsible for providing $20 million to Mississippi’s Community Health Centers over the next five years.

&uot;The school based clinic will be a great asset to Fayette,&uot; Ellis said.

The school-based clinics are expected to enhance health and wellness of children and families, prevent complications through early detection and treatment, plus reduce the number of unnecessary visits to the emergency room. In addition, they will increase school attendance and help both the clients and the system save money.

&uot;Transportation has always been an issue for parents in the school district in accessing health care for their children,&uot; said John E. Dickey, superintendent of the Jefferson County School District. &uot;With these clinics, they can access health care at a place to which they are already transported.&uot;

Just as transportation to doctors’ offices or clinics have been a problem for students, it has been an equally frustrating dilemma for parents, Ellis said. &uot;These clinics will also eliminate the problem of parents having to take time off from their jobs to seek medical attention for their children,&uot; she said.

Areghan said she and her staff will spend a large share of their time trying to teach children to delay sexual activity. &uot;It’s one of those habits we’ve got to break,&uot; she said.

The school clinic will promote sexual abstinence for all students, but if students are determined to have sex, Areghan said her duty then is to be certain that students understand the concept of &uot;safe sex.&uot;

&uot;The eighth and ninth graders are the ones who are experimenting with sex,&uot; she said. &uot;That is the population I’ve got to lay my hands on.&uot;

The Mississippi Department of Health reports that the 1998 teenage pregnancy rate in Jefferson County was 38.7 pregnancies were 1,000 females ages 10-19.

Statewide, the pregnancy rate was 45.9 pregnancies per 1,000 females in the selected age range. Other area counties reported substantially higher teenage pregnancy rates: Adams, 49.7; Franklin, 46.8; and Wilkinson, 47.5. Amite was lower with a pregnancy rate of 32.7.

Health screenings and educational sessions with students will be one of the top priorities in the new clinics, Areghan said.

Vision and hearing screenings will be provided to all students as well as hepatitis vaccines and other childhood immunizations.

If significant health problems are discovered in students, the children will be referred to Bharwani for evaluation and treatment.

&uot;We are very fortunate to receive these clinics,&uot; Dickey said.

&uot;Our kids are shorthanded with a lot of things,&uot; he said, but these clinics will be two of the best in the state of Mississippi.

The state of Mississippi had 24 school-based clinics when school started this fall, said Kelly Shannon, spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Health.

&uot;By the end of this school year, we’re projecting that we will have 30 school-based clinics,&uot; Shannon said.

Two clinics are scheduled to open in Pike County in January along with the two Jefferson County clinics. Harrison County will also have two more clinics before the end of the school year.

The school-based clinics began with a pilot program in 1995 at Gulfport High School in Gulfport.