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School Health Van Gears Up for Service

March 31, 1993|JON NALICK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA ANA — The Santa Ana Unified School District this week unveiled its new mobile health clinic, designed to deliver free medical care and education to low-income elementary school students and their families.

The clinic, the product of an innovative collaboration of public and private organizations, targets children who are at risk for learning difficulties because of inadequate health care. The "Healthy Tomorrows" program will be funded over the next five years with $775,000 in city, state, local private, county and federal grants, said Lucinda Hundley, director of special education and health services.

The van will target 4,500 students at five inner-city elementary schools: Garfield, Heninger, Kennedy, Roosevelt, and Remington, said district spokeswoman Diane Thomas.

In addition, county social workers based at each of the schools will provide counseling as well as education for parents to help prevent child abuse and inappropriate discipline techniques. Hundley said such counseling represents a switch from the norm, which is to react to cases of child abuse rather than prevent them.

On Monday, district officials and representatives from the program partners unveiled the van before about 100 parents and students at Roosevelt Elementary School.

The white, 36-foot van includes two examination rooms and a waiting area. Although the clinic is much like a doctor's office, with scales, blood pressure cuffs and other equipment, staff will not dispense drugs, Hundley said.

Under the program, the van will make regular visits to each school. On referral from the school nurse, children may be seen for physical exams, immunizations and care for minor illnesses. All treatment will require written parental consent and parents are encouraged to accompany their children, Hundley said.

The van will be staffed with a bilingual pediatrician, a registered nurse, and a health insurance counselor. A social worker will stay at each of the five schools to provide counseling and parent education. Also, volunteer physicians will provide treatment, if necessary, to some students free of charge.

The van made its first visit to Garfield Elementary Tuesday, and it will visit the other schools over the next week.

The board first approved the mobile clinic in May, 1991, amid controversy. Although many parents praised the clinic's approval as a bold move, others objected. They said it would pave the way for school-based abortion referrals and promotion of birth control.

Trustee Rosemarie Avila, who has opposed the plan since its inception, said those concerns are minimized because the children in the program are so young.

However, she still opposes the program. "I don't think schools should be involved in creating a health care bureaucracy. I applaud their desire to help the kids, but I do have concerns. Everyone's thanking themselves for putting this together, but it's the taxpayers paying the bills."

Avila said that instead of running the mobile clinic program, the school would be better served by adding school nurses to perform the same tasks.

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