MARTINSBURG — A partnership announced between Berkeley County Schools and Shenandoah Community Health will be providing school-based health care to students as a way to best meet the needs of local families at North Middle and Burke Street Elementary.
“It’s basically primary care services, mainly acute visits, sick visits, well child examinations, vaccinations, referrals to specialists, things like that,” said Karla Troppman, SCH marketing director. “One day a week, we’re going to offer these services in each of the schools — one day a week at Burke Street and one day a week at North Middle.”
A presence in the two schools will be just the pilot effort before hopefully rolling out to more schools.
A school-based health care approach is not new by any means, as Troppman said there are about 21 health systems throughout the state operating roughly 100 locations.
Providers inside the school once a week through the partnership will be able to work with children to do annual well child exams, diagnose and treat chronic medical conditions and diagnose and treat any acute problems. A flyer sent out by SCH said the school-based team will work in conjunction with a child’s regular primary care physician, when applicable, to coordinate and enhance overall care.
“Some students will end up using school-based care as sort of an Urgent Care, triage to do a little step beyond what a school nurse can do within the school,” Troppman said. “It’s certainly not replacing the care they already receive from a primary provider, but we can enhance that and be convienent for the family just because we have a presence in the school. It’s really attractive to families, so they don’t have to take off work to get their child the care they need. The whole concept is to get them back in the classroom as fast as possible.”
Troppman added that the program really meets the needs of students who may not have access to care or stay home when not feeling well versus receiving actual medical care.
“The healthier children are, the more successful they are in a school setting,” she said. “There’s several benefits to the program.”
With both the school district and SCH coming into the partnership with a great care for the children and the community, both are excited to see what comes from it.
“The nurses are looking forward to working with Shenandoah and keeping our kids safe, healthy and in school,” BCS head nurse Judy McCune said.
Principals Rebekah Eyler and Todd Cutlip expressed gratitude for the program, as it plays into the whole-child approach that is vital in helping students reach as much success as possible.
“One of our major jobs at North Middle School is to help the whole child. We know that if we can’t meet the bottom rungs of hierarchy, which is safety and well-being, emotional well-being or physical well-being, then we have no chance of meeting them academically,” Eyler said. “We have a longstanding history of providing everything our families need, whether it’s underwear or toothbrushes, whatever it is. This is just like the icing on the cake. I see it being a great service to our families.
“I think our families are going to truly take advantage of this, because we saw, especially last year, that families got back to work and can’t necessarily get off during the day to take their children to the doctor during those doctor hours. That’s a deficit in the family life, and good health care is something our kids need. Bringing it to them at the school level is just amazing. Just like what we did with counseling. Bringing the counselors to our building, that was one step. This is just the icing on the cake, a very positive step.”
Cutlip added: “It’s going to be a great opportunity for us, our families and for our students. We’re excited to welcome Shenandoah Community Health to our school.”
The program is a long time coming, as COVID-19 put a pause on strong momentum it was gaining prior to the pandemic. Troppman said both she and BCS Superintendent Dr. Patrick K. Murphy were new to their respective positions, coming together for what seemed like a no-brainer to add to the district.
With some regular meetings held to conceptualize plans, the pandemic hit, and now, those in charge are happy to see it picking back up again.
Troppman explained school-based health meets a need within the community when any barriers arrive for children who are not receiving regular health care.
“These federally qualified health centers, like Shenandoah Health, offer services no matter ability to pay,” she said. “We do see Medicaid patients. We also have patients with private insurance and Medicare, but we also offer some funding sources for people that have no insurance. We don’t want there to be any barriers to care in communities where there are community health centers. If there are those barriers in the school system, we try to find niches like that where we can serve and enhance and expand access to care, but it’s not always just out in the community. This is just another creative way to expand services and be able to provide health care to people who might not otherwise be receiving it.
“It’s been definitely a joint effort with everyone. It’s a win-win for everyone. There’s really no downside.”
Family nurse practitioner Health Eckenrode and nurse Andrea Jenkins will be working within the schools, and Eckenrode said she’s already heard excitement about the program from parents who use her as their primary care doctor outside of the school environment.
“I have a few patients who have come in for their well child (exam) and are going to be rising sixth-graders and rising kindergarteners to these schools,” she said. “When I talk to them about this service that’s going to be offered, their parents are so excited and so grateful. They think this is going to be a great service offered to the students, to the parents.”
In all, being a good community partner is right there in the name of SCH.
“It’s going to be a great service,” Eckenrode said. “We’re going to break down many barriers to care to be able to help these students who otherwise can’t get to a provider.
“That’s what we’re here for. We are here to benefit our community. I’m a product of Berkeley County Schools, so to have this opportunity to go back out and provide care and care for my community, it’s really neat.”
The services will also be available to employees within those schools. SCH asks families to enroll students in the program so it can bill for services and so the students can be established as patients.