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Student Health Clinic Is Brought Back to Life

The center at Kennedy High in Granada Hills is again in service with help from Kaiser, the school district and a nonprofit group.

September 28, 2003|Stephanie Stassel | Times Staff Writer

When Janis Lake heard the Los Angeles County supervisors cast their votes a year ago, her heart immediately sank. The county-funded student health clinic at Kennedy High School in Granada Hills would be shut for good due to budget cuts.

With the 2002-2003 school year about to start, Lake knew that something had to be done to save the clinic, where an average of 15 students, nearly all of them uninsured, would come each day to receive free medical care.

"When we were closed, there were a lot of phone calls from students asking if we were reopening," Lake said.

"There was never a doubt of the critical need for serving the uninsured and under-insured."

A Los Angeles Unified School District administrator, Lake oversees the district's public-private partnerships responsible for the Kennedy High School clinic as well as others at Lawrence Middle School in Chatsworth and Columbus Middle School in Canoga Park.

Pleas for help were made to Kaiser Permanente, which previously had given grants to the Lawrence and Columbus clinics, and El Proyecto del Barrio, which provides medical care at those sites.

Several meetings and some clever thinking led to a three-way agreement among Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills, the San Fernando Valley-based El Proyecto del Barrio and the school district.

Kaiser would have its 18 resident doctors take turns providing basic health exams and physicals to students Tuesday afternoons; El Proyecto del Barrio would provide a doctor and office personnel Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; and a school district physician would cover five hours Mondays, for a total of 20 hours.

L.A. Unified would also pay for a psychiatric social worker to provide counseling, a case manager to track patient care and a receptionist at the clinic, which serves 20 area schools.

Kaiser helped arrange for the county to leave behind most of its medical equipment and also donated two exam tables and money to purchase a copy machine for the clinic.

After being closed for nine months, the clinic reopened in June, offering medical services to children from birth to 18 years old, in addition to tuberculosis screenings for their parents.

An estimated 4,000 youngsters will be seen annually for minor illnesses, vaccinations and physical exams required for children entering first grade and for those participating in sports or some extracurricular activities.

The benefits of an uninsured child getting a free physical go beyond the obvious, said a Kaiser third-year resident who works at the clinic as part of her rotation.

"If a child can't get a physical, they can't play a sport and could instead get into trouble. Participating in the sport is not only good for their self-esteem, but it is helping to curb obesity, especially in the underserved community," Dr. Sheila G. Flom said.

Family-planning counseling is also available, including screening for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and condom distribution to students who have had abstinence education.

Parents must accompany elementary and middle school students to appointments. High school students with signed consents may be seen without a parent. Parents may request that their children not receive a particular service, such as family-planning counseling.

With school back in session, the on-campus clinic is abuzz with activity.

On a recent afternoon, a roomful of young people awaited medical care or physicals.

Susan Reyes was there with 14-year-old daughter Samantha Ramirez, a Granada Hills High freshman, who had a head-to-toe rash.

A few days earlier, the pair had gone to Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar but were unable to wait three to four hours to be seen because Reyes would have been late for her shift as a pizza parlor manager.

Having previously brought her son to the Kennedy High clinic, she called for an appointment.

"If we weren't here, we'd be at Olive View," Reyes said. "I don't have any insurance through my work."

In addition to the shorter wait, people who visit the Kennedy clinic learn about other programs and resources. A social worker, for instance, helped Reyes complete an application for a state insurance program for her daughter.

"It's so important to have one location where multiple services can be given," Lake said.

To better serve its patients, officials hope the clinic will soon be able to dispense prescribed medications. El Proyecto del Barrio has applied for the needed permit, said Jorge Lopez, clinic administrator for the nonprofit organization that was founded in 1971. Currently, uninsured patients are sent to a nearby pharmacy where most prescriptions are covered by an agreement with El Proyecto del Barrio.

Public and corporate contributions are being sought to help the clinic cover expenses.

"We really need more donations, mostly for supplies and staffing," Lopez said.

Being able to help the uninsured has been a positive experience for everyone involved, Flom, the Kaiser resident, said.

"It's always satisfying to help anyone," she said, "but there's something a little bit different in helping people who wouldn't have anywhere else to go."

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