[StBernard] Care in Class

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Mon Mar 9 10:26:42 EDT 2009

Care in Class
by Richard A. Webster
The role of a school is no longer relegated to education.

As the family unit has splintered, inner city life has degenerated into
violence and economic opportunities for the impoverished have dried up,
schools have been called upon to play a larger role in the lives of its

In the 36 years Superintendent Diane Roussel has been with the Jefferson
Parish Public School System, she has seen the changes firsthand.

"We feed them breakfast, lunch and snacks, including summer meals," Roussel
said. "We care for students before and after school. We have them for the
bulk of the day and have had to assume some of the roles that other people
in the community may have done before, including parents. And now we're
extending that role into health care."

On Tuesday, Bonnabel High School, in partnership with Ochsner Health System,
will become the fourth Jefferson Parish school in the past nine years to
open an onsite health care center.

Using a $550,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Bonnabel renovated
four classrooms into a full-service health clinic with an exam room and a
laboratory. It has a full-time staff including a registered nurse, a nurse
practitioner and a social worker in addition to a medical director who will
make weekly visits.

The typical school employs a single nurse with limited resources.

By providing free health care on school premises, Bonnabel will keep its
students healthy, Roussel said. And that will keep them in school and
prevent their parents from having to leave work to take them to the doctor
or a hospital.

"We have a population of students who don't have insurance and can't get to
the doctor because their parents work hourly jobs. If they leave work, they
don't get paid," Roussel said. "Right now most of them depend on the
emergency room for care."

Bonnabel's population of 1,500 students is 75 percent minority including 25
percent Hispanic, many of whom do not speak English, said Angie Ruiz,
director of School Based Health Centers for Jefferson Parish. The majority
of Bonnabel's students do not have access to primary or preventative care,
she said.

Some question the extent of services a school should offer its students, but
in extreme circumstances their hands are forced, Roussel said.

"Should we be the ones that teach character education and morals or should
parents? Should we be the ones that provide maybe the only hot meal they get
during the day? All of these questions keep coming up. But the problem is
defined by the community from which you draw your students. Some say it's
totally the parents' responsibility, and we may all agree with that. But
what happens when the children don't get what they need? What do you do

The Louisiana Office of Public Health and the Kellogg Foundation fund health
clinics at three Jefferson Parish high schools: a shared site for Riverdale
High and Middle schools in Jefferson, West Jefferson High School in Harvey
and Joshua Butler Elementary in Westwego. Each costs $140,000 per year to
operate, Ruiz said.

The state and foundation also fund three clinics in New Orleans - at O.
Perry Walker High School, McMain Secondary and New Orleans Math and Science
- and one at Chalmette High.

Four additional health centers are expected to open in New Orleans schools
in the coming year, and Ruiz is trying to secure funding to open a clinic at
John Ehret High School in Marrero next year.

The clinics provide vital services such as immunization shots, obesity and
nutritional treatment, and mental, behavioral and psychological care. Last
year the Riverdale clinic handled more than 4,000 student visits.

Every student who receives care at the clinic is given a full risk and
physical assessment, including laboratory work, to determine any
undiscovered issues.

At the existing clinics, these tests have discovered hard to detect
conditions such as bipolar disorder and potentially life-threatening
conditions such as heart murmurs and leukemia, Ruiz said.

Each clinic partners with a neighboring hospital, but Bonnabel's
relationship with Ochsner is unique in that the hospital is funding the
clinic's full-time nurse practitioner and all of its medical supplies, Ruiz

"We're targeting the high schools with the greatest needs and the most
complex problems," she said. "And by having a full-service clinic with
nurses and a social worker who the students can visit every day, it will
build trust. The children will feel comfortable that they can go in and ask
personal questions and that's the best way to find out what's really going

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