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School-Based Clinic Put UI Health At Forefront Of Bringing Care Back To The Communities

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

As part of its ongoing mission to eliminate health disparities, the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System in February opened a health center in Brighton Park, a socio-economically disadvantaged, predominantly Latino neighborhood on Chicago's Southwest Side. Located in Davis Elementary School, the Davis Health and Wellness Center serves adults and preschool-age children in the community as well as the children who attend Davis and two other Brighton Park schools.

School Based Clinics put Ui Health at Forefront of Bringing Care Back to the Communities

The Davis center is the fourth school-based health center (SBHC) located in underserved communities operated as part of UI Health's Mile Square Health Center. In all, these school-based health centers see far more people for mental health, illness prevention and health education than other Mile Square locations..

"It's going to be a high-volume clinic, because there's nothing else around it," says Cynthia Barnes Boyd, PhD, RN, UI Health senior director of community engagement and neighborhood health. "This is yet another example of UI Health's commitment to providing high-quality, cost-effective care to our community and our efforts to eliminate health disparities," added Robert A. Winn, MD, associate vice president for community-based practice.

These centers place UI Health at the forefront of the nationwide school health center movement. "School-based health centers are a new breed of safety-net providers that provide services to disadvantaged families," Barnes Boyd says. "They not only address health, but also increase academic achievements by making sure that children, particularly those with chronic illness such as asthma, are well, ready to learn and in the classroom."

Staffed by advanced practice nurses, a social worker, a nurse educator and a nutritionist, all in collaboration with a UI Health physician, the center provides primary care and management of acute and chronic illnesses. Patients in need of specialty care are referred to UI Health or another provider of their choice.

The center is funded with grants from the U.S. Health Resource and Service Administration and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Illinois. It makes its services available on a sliding fee schedule that ensures that care is provided to all people regardless of ability to pay.

"It has been well-documented that SBHCs are an excellent way to meet the health needs of children. They eliminate the barriers that parents often encounter in getting to a provider for regular pediatric care," Barnes Boyd observes. "We have expanded the model to serve the entire family."

In order for their child to receive care, parents register the child with the center, giving permission for the center to provide care in their absence when necessary. This is often done when the child registers at the school and school personnel are actively involved in encouraging families to register. The center staff communicates with parents whenever a child is seen in the parents' absence. "It's an easy way to address illness," Barnes Boyd says. "Children get sick all the time and, rather than get an appointment and having to take off work, parents can trust us to take care of their kids right where they are."

She adds that the center also puts health providers in contact with parents, who may not seek out care for themselves. "While they won't go to a doctor, they do come to schools for many reasons. We take advantage of these opportunities to address their health care concerns as well." In addition to the health screening and care they receive, these families also benefit from the counseling services, nutrition and health education offered through the Davis center.

Martha Valdez is one of many Brighton Park residents who have responded enthusiastically to the center's opening. "I think it's wonderful," says Valdez, whose 7-year-old son attends Davis Elementary School.

Valdez used to have to travel 20 minutes to reach a health care provider outside her neighborhood. "Now that this center is close, I don't even have to show up for the little coughs or sniffles," she says. "This past week, there was a stomach flu going around and he wasn't feeling well. I walked him in after school and, 25 minutes later, we were walking out the door again. That was convenient and fast."