Innovative New Orleans School Health Clinic Serves Students And Staff

Aug 21, 2014

There is more to a child’s learning than strictly academics. Experts are learning more about factors like good nutrition or physical fitness, and how they impact children’s success. School-based healthcare centers take the idea further. They provide primary medical care, right on campus.  

So far, there are just five schools in New Orleans that offer those kinds of services. But one Mid-City high school is expanding its clinic, making it the first in the city open full-time to the whole school.

A newly renovated building sits in the back of Warren Easton’s campus. It’s a hot topic, because many charter operators think the services it holds could help keep kids in school.

Physician Julie Finger shows off the school’s budding health clinic, where the students get seen by either a social worker or medical professional. The first of its kind in the city, starting in October it will offer services to students and staff every hour that the school is open.

The center used to be run by Finger’s organization, Tulane Adolescent Medicine, until they lost funding. This year a new group is taking over. Finger says the transition was a blessing in disguise.

"The clinic operations are transitioning over to Access Health," she says. "They are a federally qualified health center, so their reimbursement rates are much higher than ours — which allows them to be much more sustainable. So they’re going to take over as the clinic operator so the clinic can stay open and keep serving these kids."

Kendra LeSar works with School Health Connection. That’s a Louisiana Public Health Institute program that helped rebuild the system after Hurricane Katrina destroyed it. She says this marks a big step for school-based health care.

"The clinic is one of those things that provides that level of love and security and care," says Warren Easton board president David Garland.

"Because we often hear from teachers that they spend so much of their time in the classroom, in the school, that they really don’t take the time to take care of themselves and make those doctors appointments the way that they should," LeSar says. "This will hopefully provide them with a great way to get preventative care and also acute care when needed."

For students, too, the impacts are profound. Warren Easton kids can now more easily get immunizations and treat ongoing conditions.

And then there’s the counseling. Many students have parents in jail, or have lost family to gun violence. Social worker Bella Christodoulou thinks the clinic’s full-time services are crucial in a high-crime city like New Orleans.

"We want our students to succeed. We talk about, you know, educating them and you want to stop crime and all this, and this is the way to do it."

Board President David Garland agrees. He thinks it’s important to nurture the whole student, and not just teach them.

"The clinic is one of those things that provides that level of love and security and care, where a child can come in with a specific problem, whether it’s a social problem or a medical problem, and they know that we’re sort of their surrogate moms and dads. And by knowing that, they believe that Warren Easton is more of a home than a school. And we foster that relationship."

Not to mention the impacts on school performance. "It comes out in something like the graduation rates, where again four years in a row we had one hundred percent of the seniors graduate, Garland says. "Astounding results."

But if Warren Easton’s clinic is so successful, then why aren’t more schools opening them? LeSar says it boils down to space and funding.

"You know Jefferson Parish School Board, they operate all their clinics themselves through the school board, and they do it very well. So I really do think it could have been possible if you have people who are dedicated and committed to student health, I think it very well could be possible through both systems."

Garland hopes to see more clinics like Warren Easton’s open in the near future. He says you just need a proactive school board, and taxpayers willing to foot the bill.