Swedish Covenant, Chicago Schools Partner in Health Education

Post a Comment » Written on December 4th, 2002     
Filed under: News
By Craig Pinley

CHICAGO, IL (December 4, 2002) – It looks like your typical doctor’s office, complete with two examination rooms, a lab and an office for mental health. But, you might have to wade your way through 1,500 teenagers to get there.

Swedish Covenant Hospital has made inroads into its local community through the Roosevelt High School (RHS) Health Center, which opened in August 1999. The Health Center seems to be located about as far from the main entrance as one can get, but students have no qualms about going there. It served 96 percent of the student body during the 2001-02 academic year, according to health care staff.

The RHS Health Center staff completed 110 wellness and health education presentations to students and faculty, gave required physicals to RHS athletes and provided immunizations for students entering high school, among other things. The staff even provided a set of three immunizations for students graduating from high school, if they so chose. Services like that make the estimated $400,000 in annual operating costs seem like a great deal.

For the Albany Park Community, access to a doctor’s office isn’t a given. About 83 percent of community residents are in family units that are at or below the poverty level. Half of the families don’t have medical insurance. Thus, even minimal medical services for students are more than what many would have otherwise.

Health Center staff believe they are doing more than the minimum, however. Craig Cathcart, Swedish Covenant’s director of Community Health Services and Government Relations, says every student entering the Health Center is surveyed to assess overall health needs, which helps the center tailor its educational programming.

“Originally, the main concern (question) was: What can we do to keep kids healthy and in school?” said Cathcart. “Keeping them in school (via better medical care) meant that parents didn’t have to take off from school to take a kid to the doctor, which was important. To them, a half-day off work takes food off the table. Now, we’re able to facilitate intervention and proactive care, and by providing education we’re helping to keep long-term costs down.

“Doctors and administrators represent two different cultures,” Cathcart points out. “Doctors are concerned with health care and confidential services and administrators are concerned with academics. It (the Health Center) is a marriage between the two and the school recognizes the important role we play.”

For second-year Health Center manager Marilyn Wroblewski, great satisfaction comes in helping students better their lives through month-long thematic educational programs such as November’s “Great Smoke Out” or sessions on topics such as stress management. In some respects, she plays the role of a parent, but she doesn’t mind. She knows the teens are the best vehicle for education for they may be the only ones with time to learn. Wroblewski has discovered that many kids come from immigrant families whose parents have been here for only a few weeks. Some of those parents are working two and three jobs to make ends meet, leaving little time for teachable moments of any kind.

“With kids, you have a window of opportunity to teach prevention,” said Wroblewski of her recent unit. “We’re spending a lot of time in the classroom for health education and teaching them. It was heartwarming, yet heart-wrenching because most of the kids came (to the seminars) for the parents.”

According to the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce web page, Albany Park is composed of 40 percent Europeans, 31 percent Hispanics/Latinos, 24 percent Asians and 3 percent African Americans. The myriad of religions, says the staff, is diverse as well and that makes medical decisions a bit more complicated than “take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” Recently, a Muslim student needing treatment for pneumonia during Ramadan would not take a drink of water to swallow her medicine until staff contacted a local mullah (religious teacher) and received permission.

Janette Muir Smith of North Park Covenant Church, a family nurse practitioner, grew up as a missionary kid in Africa and Portugal and worked in the Peace Corps in Congo. She likes the diversity of cultures and appreciates the nuances that make treating each patient especially unique.

“I’ve always been interested in working with cross cultural ministry and part of what makes it interesting is when you can get through to someone,” Muir Smith said. “They’re at the point where they’re making decisions that can affect them long term and you can intervene in that process and help. And because this population is so ethnically diverse, there is always something different that can make it interesting and fun.”

For another family nurse practitioner, Peggy Cushing, satisfaction comes in the enjoyment of the students themselves. “I love their energy,” she says. “When you work one-on-one with them, they’re wonderful.”

The RHS Health Center is one 18 school-based health centers in the Chicago area and one of 48 to be developed statewide since 1982. Swedish Covenant opened the center with the cooperation of the high school and Margaret Laurino, the city’s 39th Ward Alderman, who was instrumental in enlisting the help of former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and making the center eligible to receive public school funds. Swedish Covenant is assisting Northside Prep High School with health education as well.

In addition to financial support from the hospital and Chicago Public Schools, the center has received funding from the Mary A. Ackermann Trust, George A. Bates Foundation, Arie and Ida Crown Memorial, Illinois Department of Human Services, Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, Michael Reese Health Trust, Polk Brothers Foundation, Union Pacific and the VNA Foundation.

For more information about the center, its services, and upcoming educational programs, call 773-866-0818.

Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

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