School-based clinic a busy place: Center offers medical, dental, counseling services to southern campus students
A 12-year old boy with stomach pain sits on her exam table. Family nurse practitioner Regina Wardwell takes his blood pressure. It is 90 over 60, good for a little boy.
“Do you want to hear your heart,” Wardwell asks.
“I never heard my heart,” the boy replies.
“Listen. You’ll be amazed,” she said, putting the stethoscope in place on the boy.
His eyes light up as he looks at her.
“You hear a thump, thump?” she asks.
The boy is there alone. School personnel from North Fork Middle School brought him across the campus to the Shenandoah South Wellness Center at Ashby Lee Elementary School.
With no parent around, Wardwell has to try to develop a medical history from the boy.
She looks him over, noticing a couple spots on his fair skin that she wants to keep an eye on.
“Do you take pills?” she asks.
“Yes. For ADHD,” he said.
“Did you eat anything different?” she asked. “Do you drink a lot of milk?”
“You might want to stop milk. Cheese?”
Again he nods
“Try stopping those for a few days. Yogurt?”
“I love yogurt,” he responded.
“You could be having trouble digesting it,” Wardwell tells her young patient. “You could have a stomach virus but I think you have an allergy, most people are allergic to dairy.”
She tells him to stop eating dairy for a week and schedules a follow-up appointment to check on him. Also during the exam, she talks to him in an attempt to key in on the whole picture, including asking him questions to find out how things are going at home.
The majority of students Wardwell sees, for the most part, are healthy. She spends half of her time dealing with social issues such as trauma and depression, she said, noting that it is critical to establish a dialogue and keep it open.
The center is open to all students on the south campus from pre-K to seniors at the high school.
As of the 2016 U.S. Census, 10.6 percent of individuals in Shenandoah County live below the poverty line. Of those, there are about 8,600 children in the county who live below that line.
Wardwell examines patients one day a week. This makes room for counseling and dental services on the other days. Having a clinic as part of a school or on a school campus is an excellent way to provide care, she said.
“It is invaluable,” Wardwell said. “Parents or older students may not have vehicles or can’t take off work when sick.”
Most often patients do not have medical insurance but that is not always the case. Insurance will be billed when it’s available. Kids will also come in when their own primary care physician is booked.
HOW IT STARTED
The idea for the center was born when Pam Murphy, executive director of the Shenandoah County Free Clinic, was asked to talk about clinic services at a retreat for school administrators in August 2016. School nurses were not there but heard about the talk and asked to meet with Murphy about services and how students might be able to access it.
“We had meetings and as they shared specific stories of just some of the hardships children were facing I promised to find ways to get more help to them,” Murphy said.
The Shenandoah County Public School Board was receptive to the idea of a clinic.
The School Board and attorneys worked on a written agreement that would allow the free clinic to use space at Ashby Lee, space carved out of existing classroom space.
In the months the paperwork was being sorted out, fundraising began to help with startup costs for new construction and furnishings for the Shenandoah South Wellness Center.
In the center, partitions separate the medical exam room and dentistry office from the lobby so appointments are scheduled one every half hour to allow for patient privacy
“We hoped we might build walls and add plumbing but the summer schedule and funds were too tight to accomplish it all before school started,” Murphy said.
“Even so, we spent about $60,000 to get it ready,” she said.
In less than a year the center went from not even being on the radar to become the Shenandoah South Wellness Center, opening in September 2017
The center has already served about 200 people but more help is needed.
As busy as Wardwell is, others at the center are more so.
The most in-demand service is to see the counselor. At least one more is needed, said both Wardwell and Mercedes Martinez, the quality manager at the center.
The dental practice is the next most often requested service.
The center has seen a total of 66 kids since it opened., Martinez said, adding there are 45 patients in treatment with the counselor and 160 visitors to the dental clinic.
That includes 10-year-old Sarah Richman, whose mom Erika Richman is assistant principal at Ashby Lee.
“She likes the dentist here,” Richman said, adding they use the medical services as well.
“It is more convenient. I don’t have to be away,” she said.
Martinez and Wardwell agreed that a wellness center is also needed at the school division’s north and central campuses.
Bill Holtzman, president and owner of Holtzman Oil and Holtzman Propane, is matching any donation for the center up to $50,000.
“We are so grateful for this extra push to help more children and families,” Murphy said.
A donation of $10 per month can provide medicine to fight a patient’s infection. A donation of $20 per month can fund the pulling of wisdom teeth and $50 per month can pay for two months of medical supplies.
To pledge, go to http://shenclinic.org and look for the donate button.