Children's hospitals and schools are joining together for healthier patients.
By Kaitie Marolf
In pursuit of improved children's health care, some hospitals have developed partnerships with local school districts to standardize care across environments and provide health services to all students. "Long ago, school nursing was known for Band-Aids and ice packs, and that is not the case anymore," says Michele Wilmoth, M.S.N., director of nursing for School Health Services at Akron Children's Hospital. "The amount of health care delivered in schools is often unrecognized."
In a 2015 CHA survey, 51 percent of respondents indicated their hospital had a "formal partnership" with early education or child care. The National Association of School Nurses says 83 percent of school nurses are funded by departments of education. Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas, an Ascension hospital, and Akron Children's have partnerships with local schools, allowing for better care coordination and ensuring school readiness.
Partnering with school systems
In 2004, Akron Children's merged with a private company called Schoolhouse Network and contracted with districts to provide school nurses, health management plans; education for students, parents and school employees; and other health services. The hospital currently serves 26 school districts and 7,600 children.
The program provides outreach with efforts like Kohl's Fit Kids, which educates kids about exercise and nutrition, and other programs that focus on puberty and handwashing. The hospital also provides flu vaccines on the schools' campuses and social and emotional learning programs. These efforts reached 9,665 people in the 2014-15 year. "Research shows that increased physical, social and emotional wellbeing results in improved academic performance," says Wilmoth. "Our school health program provides student and family centered care for the whole child."
Dell Children's formed a partnership with Austin Independent School District (ISD) in 1995 when financial trouble led the district to consider eliminating school nurses, and the hospital stepped in to fill the need. Stephen Pont, M.D., medical director for Austin ISD Student Health Services and Dell Children's, says a major accomplishment as a result of this partnership was increasing immunization rates to nearly 100 percent. "It's an ongoing process," Pont says. "People move in and out of the district, so we have to actively manage that."
The partnership also resulted in behavioral health professionals on 12 campuses through a Medicaid waiver program, an EpiPens in schools program and a roving pediatric health care van. The van supported 1,121 health care visits in 2015 for uninsured and Medicaid-insured students. Staff provide a wide range of services from prenatal care to sports physicals. Teachers also work in the hospital to help patients stay on track academically.
The impact of care coordination
Both organizations see the benefits of care coordination between hospitals and schools, which fosters the development of health plans for chronic diseases. "We provide a bridge between health and academics, working directly with the medical providers and the schools to ensure the child's health plan is being carried out at school," Wilmoth says.
Managing the health of students with chronic diseases like asthma—the leading cause of school absenteeism—and diabetes allows students to have more time in the classroom and results in fewer hospital visits. Personalized care plans help with quality of life. This type of customized plan allowed Pont to work with a student with a terminal condition "He was receiving palliative care, and he, his family and the student health services team wanted to make sure he was present at his graduation," Pont says. A care plan made that possible.
Partnerships strengthen the health care-education continuum, heighten brand awareness, help with injury and illness prevention and allow for convenient care. "Children spend six hours or more at school, so where better to impact health?" Wilmoth says.
This content was originally presented as part of the Population Health Virtual Learning series. View a recording of the webinar.
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