Doctor questions school-based health care

Published 12:04 am Saturday, September 17, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Kesha Johnson of the Jefferson Comprehensive Health Center, checks a student’s blood pressure at Robert Lewis Middle School Friday afternoon. Jefferson Comprehensive has received a grant to build a small clinic in the school, and is sharing space with the middle school during its construction.

NATCHEZ — A local pediatrician recently voiced concerns to the Natchez-Adams School Board about the medical treatment students are receiving at a school-based health clinic at Robert Lewis Middle School.

Dr. David Timm told school board members at their September meeting it is the policy of the Jefferson Comprehensive clinic at Robert Lewis and at all school-based clinics to treat students without a parent or guardian present.

“This is disturbing,” Timm said.

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Timm said it was ridiculous to allow 12, 13 and 14-year-old students to receive health care without a parent or adult present to hear medical personnel recite medical instructions.

The Robert Lewis clinic has been operating since April after the board approved the school-based clinic in March, NASD Interim Superintendent Joyce Johnson said.

Robert Lewis Principal Sekufele Lewanika said the clinic only treats students whose parents have signed consent forms.

Lewanika said parents or guardians of 180 students out of more than 600 students enrolled at Robert Lewis signed consent forms for their child to be treated at the clinic.

“(By signing consent forms,) parents give rights to the clinic to treat their child and do whatever they want to do,” Lewanika said.

Shirley Ellis-Stampley, the executive director of Jefferson Comprehensive Health Center — a private nonprofit — said children treated at the school-based clinic receive an assessment form to bring home to their parents based on the visit.

In addition, Ellis-Stampley said parents of a treated child receive a phone call from the clinic, so adults know to expect an assessment form from their child when he or she returns from school.

Timm, who said he spoke on behalf of himself and pediatricians Drs. Danita Weary, Jennifer Russ and Brian Stretch, said he has heard complaints about the treatment students received at the Robert Lewis clinic and other school-based clinics.

“It was just three weeks ago that I discovered that the Robert Lewis Middle School clinic was opened when an irate mother came to my office angry that her 14-year-old daughter was treated without her approval,” Timm said.

Johnson said she has not received any complaints from parents of students treated at the clinic, nor has Assistant Superintendent Morris Stanton.

Ellis-Stampley said the clinic at Robert Lewis is comprised of a nurse practitioner, a licensed practical nurse and a receptionist.

The clinic is currently sharing a space with the school nurse.

Jefferson Comprehensive, however, recently received a federal grant to fund construction of a 1,344 square-foot facility at Robert Lewis for $244,374. The school board voted at their August meeting to allow construction to commence pending a review by the board attorney.

The facility will include four new exam rooms and increase capacity to serve 500 students and school staff, according to a project summary Jefferson Comprehensive gave to the school board.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Healthy Schools/Healthy Communities awarded Jefferson Comprehensive a $497,470 grant in late June through its school-based health center capital program. The program falls under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Jefferson Comprehensive, which has served Jefferson and Adams counties for more than 40 years, has run two school-based health clinics in Jefferson County since 1999, Ellis-Stampley said.

She said the school-based clinics give all children a chance to be treated for health issues.

“We treat any and everybody and don’t turn anybody down,” Ellis-Stampley said.

Children of parents without insurance have opportunities to visit the clinic, Ellis-Stampley said. And she said children can be treated without forcing their parents to take off of work.

“Some children do not get any (medical) services unless they get it though our school-based clinics,” she said.

She said she has found that some children treated at school-based clinics have never been to the dentist before or received other important examinations.

The clinic also provides assistance to pay for prescriptions through vouchers, Ellis-Stampley said.

Ellis-Stampley said private doctors often use nurse practitioners to treat patients for certain services.

“We’re providing the same services,” Ellis-Stampley said.

Timm also said Adams County has health care providers available to treat students, so the clinic is unnecessary.

“In one regard I admire Jefferson Comprehensive for soliciting federal funds to provide care to communities that would otherwise have no care, but Adams County is not a medically destitute area,” Timm said.

Ellis-Stampley the federal government defines Adams County as a medically underserved area.

“Adams County is on the list (of medically underserved communities),” Ellis Stampley said.

She said Jefferson Comprehensive, which is one of 22 community health centers in the state, would not receive federal dollars to operate in Adams County if the county was not considered medically underserved.

Lewanika said the school nurse continues to see students whose parents have not signed consent forms.

Robert Lewis school nurse Audrey Curry said sharing the space with the clinic has been tight, but after construction is completed, the clinic will have its own space.

“Like anything else there’s a few kinks to work out,” Lewanika said of the school-based clinic.

Lewanika stressed the importance of the decision parents make in giving the clinic consent to treat their child.

“It’s important to read (the consent form) before they sign it,” Lewanika said.

Johnson said the district administration is looking into Timm’s concerns.

In addition, Johnson said, the board attorney will be meeting with representatives from Jefferson Comprehensive to discuss specific statements made by Timm.