Health Centers for Schools Program Keeps Students Healthy & Learning

boardFor 20 years and with little fanfare or recognition,  Memorial Hermann’s Health Centers for Schools program has been working to provide access to medical, mental health, nutritional and dental health services for students across the greater Houston area. Why?

“We do it because there was need then and a need now,” Carol Paret, Memorial Hermann’s Senior Vice President and Chief Community Health Officer.

National recognition, however, recently shone on the program when it was lauded as “one of the best models in the nation” by the Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King and Acting Deputy Secretary Mary Wakefield of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The two secretaries stopped in Houston to visit Memorial Hermann’s school-based clinic at Sharpstown High School as part of a national tour to highlight successful collaborations between health systems and school districts that keep students healthy and in the classroom.

Paret participated in a roundtable discussion with Secretaries King and Wakefield, U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier, and other child health advocates around the critical role that healthcare coverage and health services play in ensuring all students are ready and able to learn.

“By focusing on the care of our children today, we are ensuring a healthier Houston tomorrow,” said Paret.  “Over the last two decades, we’ve made tremendous strides improving the health of students throughout the greater Houston community.

According to Secretary King, “When students have these unmet health needs, it gets in the way of their learning. Healthy students are better learners and better positioned to thrive in school and later in life. Our hope is that this call-to-action is a new day for collaboration. We need more schools, more districts and more states to take advantage of existing channels and opportunities to create healthy opportunities for their students.”

Paret emphasized that it is imperative that Memorial Hermann’s Health Centers for Schools continues to evolve to meet emerging and current challenges such as food insecurity.

“We are now addressing issues such as childhood obesity and food insecurity,” Paret said. “There is a link between obesity and hunger. Many overweight and obese kids lack access to high-quality, nutritious foods. Hunger induces irregular eating patterns that can lead to a child becoming overweight or obese. To address this problem, we are incorporating exercise programs into our clinics and asking students who access our clinics what they’re eating or if they’re eating when they leave school.”

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Memorial Hermann’s Health Centers for School program touches five school districts – Aldine, Alief, Houston, Lamar Consolidated and Pasadena. The clinics are open five days a week, year round, with the program serving students in the schools’ designated elementary and high school feeder patterns.

The clinics are available to more than 65,000 underserved children at 68 schools. The program expanded last year largely due to funds received through the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) 1115-Waiver program – set to expire  this year.

The clinics are staffed by a nurse practitioner, social worker, licensed vocational nurse (LVN) and receptionist with physician oversight provided. A certified Community Health Worker (CHW) or navigator rotates among the centers and assists parents with CHIP/Medicaid applications and provides social service, medical and dental referrals.

Services includes sick and injury care, general and sports physicals, immunizations, chronic care (asthma, obesity and cholesterol), mental health therapy, social service referrals, nutritional guidance and other care to meet students’ needs.

Learn more about Memorial Hermann Community Benefit programs.

Tashika Varma