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Hospital and schools partner to improve health of community

Posted Apr 14 2011 3:24pm

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

By Donna Wilson – Guest blogger
Youth Health Coordinator, Heartland Health     

It is not a natural phenomenon for hospitals and schools to partner on a mission to improve community health . But have you ever wondered why not? In our community, Heartland Health teamed up with the St. Joseph, MO , school district nearly 20 years ago, and it all started because the CEO of the hospital and the superintendent of schools at the time had a similar vision: to improve the health of the community we live in and to educate a new generation of citizens.

You see, the hospital and the school system need each other. If kids are ill or can’t access the care they need and are absent from school, not only do their grades suffer, but school funding can be impacted as well. Hospitals, on the other hand, provide care to children, but all too often we treat conditions after they are already a problem. By working with schools, we can identify health issues and deliver prevention programs earlier because we can work with the children at schools. School nurses provide a vital link to the children and their families and assist us with all of our projects. So on many levels, this relationship is a win-win for all involved.

Today our community health programs help teenagers at three area high schools, and children at four middle schools and 16 elementary schools. Our partnership began when we opened a health clinic in town to improve access to pediatric services. We have also opened a dental clinic to improve oral health after noticing a growing problem of decay among students in kindergarten through third grade. Other aspects of our work include offering school-based immunization clinics and purchasing a mobile health clinic that travels to schools, offering care on site.

We believe that the key determinants of health status are education and the quality of jobs. That’s why it’s so important for children to learn about health habits when they are young, so they can succeed in school, be able to work in jobs with higher pay and insurance, and practice healthier lifestyles. This would reduce the amount of charity care needed in our community and result in a healthier community.

We need every community in this country to join in this effort if our children are going to lead successful, productive and healthy lives. What we do now will determine the health status of the next generation. If we do nothing, children will be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. It cannot change overnight. It will take time to do it right, but our children are counting on us to lead the way.

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