By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NEWPORT - A school-based health clinic that serves thousands of the city's low-income residents is in danger of closing this summer unless it receives an infusion of cash.
The Newport School-based Health Center needs to raise $30,000 or the doors will close at the end of June, said Beth Lange, coordinator of the nearly 3-year-old clinic.
The money would enable the center, which operates out of renovated space at the old Newport High School, to provide matching funds for a grant of about $100,000 from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati.
A $345,000 three-year grant from the foundation that originally funded the center runs out in June.
"If we can raise the $30,000, then we can get another grant," Lange said. "And that will allow us to stay open for another year, from June of this year until June of 2004. And once we know we can stay open, then we can begin working on funding to keep the center open longer."
Lange said the center is working to raise the money from foundations, corporations, individuals and others. But with the economy tight, money has been difficult to find.
"But we have become such a valuable piece of the community, it would be a terrible shame if we had to close," Lange said. "We deal with so many families that really in many cases have nowhere else to turn."
Staffed by health-care professionals, including a nurse practitioner and a clinical pharmacist, the center is "one of the most positive things we've done in the community for a long time," said Newport Schools Superintendent Dan Sullivan.
"The center serves a lot of folks who don't have any health insurance," Sullivan said. "Consequently, a lot of people have a difficult time getting medical service. They don't have doctors.
"So if they didn't have the (health) center, a lot of them would end up at the emergency room at St. Luke Hospital East in Fort Thomas," he said. "Those visits are expensive and take away attention from more serious cases. To me, that's why the center is so valuable. It provides health care and it helps keep kids in school."
Sullivan said even though the district is having its own tough time financially, largely because of less money coming from the cash-strapped state, he will "find a way to keep the center open."
Medical providers working with the center include St. Luke Hospital and Community Pharmacy Care in Bellevue. But the center is not intended to take the place of a family's primary care doctor.
However, because Newport has such a large indigent and transient population, the center provides services many families do not have access to.
For instance, 98 percent of students at Fourth Street Elementary qualify for free or reduced lunches under federal income guidelines.
In addition to Fourth Street, the center also serves A.D. Owens Elementary with a donated recreational vehicle that has been transformed into a mobile health center.
"This is a very poor area," said Nancy Warren, the center's nurse practitioner. "A lot of times people can't get to their doctor, or maybe a child has an ear infection and they can't get to the doctor for three, four or five days. And the whole time that child is out of school.
"We can see them right away, or at the latest a day later," Warren said. "We can check them out, get them on some medicine and get them back in school as soon as possible. I've worked in a lot of clinics in other areas, but I don't think I've ever seen such need in a community as this."
Parent Tony Sharp says the center provides a vital service in the community.
Sharp works as a welder but said he can't afford health insurance for his two sons, age 13 and 11.
"So the health center really helps me out," said Sharp, who took one of his sons to the clinic last week to be treated for strep throat. "I've taken the kids there several times. It's a great service."
Since opening more than two years ago, the center provided the following services to students in the district:
Visits to nurse practitioner, 2,672.
Visits to center's nurse and medical assistant, 4,494.
Students enrolled in Chronic Disease Management Program, 690.
Dental screenings by Newport Dentist Tom Goeke, 213.
Mental health visits, 2,240.
Lange said the center staff does more than just provide treatment at the clinic.
When new students move into the district, they must have a physical and have their immunizations updated. Getting those services can take a week or more for families without health insurance or a regular doctor, but the center can accomplish the tasks in one visit.
"Instead of missing a week or more of school, we have the student in class," Lange said.
Kelly Swensgard, the center's clinical pharmacist, works with many students who have chronic ailments such as diabetes and asthma.
But in addition to providing treatment and medicines, she and other staff members make sure the students actually get the medicines that are prescribed.
"A lot of families just can't afford to have a prescription filled," Swensgard said. "Or maybe they don't have a phone or a car to call or go to the pharmacist.
"So we'll find them a doctor, get them an appointment, make sure they get to the appointment, get the prescription and follow up with them," she said.
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