More Northeast Ohio students will have access to healthcare at school this year

Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 1:48 PM EDT
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AKRON, Ohio (WOIO) - Back to school time is when a lot of kids renew physicals for sports or go in for a routine well-check.

But, what about those who don’t have transportation to a doctor’s office or the money to pay for a visit?

19 Investigates discovered this year more Northeast Ohio students will have access to healthcare at their school buildings.

We spoke to one local nurse practitioner who says the increased access to healthcare could help solve more problem than one.

Teresa Fletcher is a nurse practitioner at Akron Children’s Hospital, but during the school year, you’ll find her at one of a dozen local schools helping kids through what’s called a “school-based health center.”

Fletcher says the growing use of telehealth to help students without access to healthcare and the money to provide it is something good that came out of the pandemic.

“It does come from COVID relief dollars,” she said. “So, it’s great because now there is easier access to healthcare to students that might not otherwise have access to that health care.”

Data uncovered by 19 investigates shows in both the Akron City Schools district and the much larger Cleveland Municipal school district at least 3 of 5 children are enrolled in Medicaid, health insurance for low-income families.

Less than half of the students on Medicaid went to a simple well-check during the 2020-2021 school year.

That means thousands of kids went without seeing a doctor for a check-up in those two districts alone.

“If a child presents to the school nurse office with ear pain, they call the family and tell the family that we have the service available to them and if they’d like to sign up then they can have a Telehealth visit,” Fletcher said.

This year, Fetcher hopes she and her team may even be able to facilitate a few more of those crucial well-visits at school too.

After three years of helping to facilitate services through the school based health centers, Fletcher says Akron Children’s received a large grant to expand services this year, and perhaps it may be the start of solving more than just a healthcare issue.

“We also have special equipment which allows us to do a more thorough medical exam. So, we can look in ears and throats and then diagnose and ear infection and provide a prescription,” she said. “If they can be seen in school that day, they only miss a couple hours of school,” she said.

If an issue like an ear infection goes undiagnosed, she says it can caused a lot of unnecessary pain for a student and even a lot of missed school.

“It can lead to other health care problems or fevers, lots of missed school days. Sometimes it’s just pressure and headaches,” she said.

Last school year, chronic absenteeism jumped to 24 % up from 11% the year before.

Fletcher agreed the school-based health services can be seen as just part of an approach to targeting the absenteeism issue.

“Definitely. So, if that school did not have a school-based health center then maybe that child would have to go home that day, because their ear pain was so bad, and then their family would have to call their primary care doctor or take them to the emergency room or an Urgent Care visit, and then maybe they would miss the next day at school,” she said.

For Fletcher, being part of the solution is really important.

“It’s helping every kid as if it were your own,” she said.

The School based health centers will also help provide vaccinations to children and their families this year- whether that’s COVID-19 shots or other routine vaccines they missed during the pandemic.

School-based health initiatives help ensure students are in school, healthy, and ready to learn...
School-based health initiatives help ensure students are in school, healthy, and ready to learn through a school or district's partnerships with health care providers and other community organizations.(Ohio Department of Health)

Akron Children’s is one of 15 providers who got the funding to expand school-based health services in their area’s local schools.