Tuesday, June 24, 2003

NKU grant may spur more health centers at schools

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

A $74,666 grant awarded to the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Northern Kentucky University could be the catalyst for more school-based health centers in local districts and across the country.

Students and faculty at NKU will spend two years designing software and analyzing data to determine the effectiveness of the more than two dozen such centers in the state.

The grant came from the university, which awards money each year to faculty members for community outreach programs.

"I've got students right now working on the software that will be ready in the fall for centers to use," said Dr. Andrew Long, who applied for the grant and is an assistant professor of mathematics and computer science. "We hope that what we're doing can eventually be used across the nation."

Locally, there are health centers in the Bellevue, Boone, Erlanger-Elsmere, Gallatin, Ludlow, Newport, Silver Grove, Southgate, and Williamstown school districts.

Michelle Napier, president of the Kentucky School-Based Health Center Collaborative, describes the health centers as "scaled-down versions of medical centers in schools."

Each one is staffed by a pediatric nurse practitioner who can prescribe students medication, including antibiotics, cough and cold medicine, and non-narcotic pain relievers, such as ibuprofen. Services include preventive care, acute care, and health education. All services are free to students and families.

The centers enable children to remain in school and parents at work for health issues in which parents would normally have to take their children to a doctor.

Napier said the centers have been around for 25 years in some states, but there are only 1,500 nationwide today.

"School-based health centers are a relatively new social phenomenon and, because of that, we don't have much information about ourselves," said Napier. "This project will enable us to specifically measure school-based health centers' processes and outcomes."

Napier said the data analyzed by the university will give the centers information including how many students are served, what they are treated for, and what each center can and can't do.

That data can then be used to obtain funding from the state or private organizations.

All centers are now privately funded.

In Boone County, the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department opened two centers in January 2002 at R.A. Jones Middle and Collins Elementary schools. The centers are next door to each other and staffed by the same nurse practitioner at a total cost of about $40,000 annually.

"So far in Boone County, we feel we're getting a lot of bang for the buck right now," said Dr. Charlie Kenner, chairman of the health department. "There has been a 2 percent increase in attendance that got a lot of state money."

"In all of the districts that have the centers, attendance this past year increased at least 1 percent," she said. "And attendance is big money for Kentucky schools."

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