Staying Well: Willow Bend Elementary’s clinic provides health care to Frenship students and siblings under 18

“To me, it’s a blessing from God.”

That’s the way Sophia Macias describes the student health clinic at Willow Bend Elementary School.

Macias has three children at Willow Bend in the first, second and third grades. Her oldest son is a 14-year-old at Terra Vista Middle School, while her youngest child is just a year old. All of them are seen at Willow Bend.

“My 14-year-old, he hates to go to clinic. He thinks they are for people who are dying,” said Macias. “He thinks this is like school. It’s just routine. To him, it’s like no big deal.”

Macias said in the area where she lives, many women do not speak English or drive. They all love being able to get healthcare for their children at the school, where a receptionist speaks Spanish to tell them about the diagnoses for their children.

“The health of our kids is the most important thing in any parent’s life. To have it so conveniently at school, it’s just, it’s just like sending them to school, it’s as simple as that,” she said.

Macias said she works every day at McDonald’s to make ends meet.

“To take a day off, that’s a bill that doesn’t get paid. I don’t take days off, I work every day,” she said. “When my kids get sick, I just get them on the bus, and I send a note. If they can fit them in, they see them. They don’t ever tell me no.”

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The student health clinic at Willow Bend is in its second year. During its first year, it was only open to Willow Bend and Reese Education Center, but it is now open to all Frenship students and their siblings age 18 and under. Staff members can now get some medication and immunizations at the clinic as well.

Willow Bend Elementary School has only been open for three years.

“There were health needs and concerns there we saw immediately,” said Steve Burleson, assistant superintendent. “If they (students) are not healthy, they’re not going to learn.”

The need for health care was always there in FISD schools, Burleson said, but it was never as evident as it was once Willow Bend opened. According to the district’s submissions to the Texas Education Agency in October, 73.9 percent of the students Willow Bend serves are economically disadvantaged, a number far higher than the district average of 35.9 percent.

“We were dealing with a lot of issues of kids not getting the care they needed,” said Willow Bend nurse Cathy Mousavi.

Burleson said teachers told him of problems with older elementary school children having to stay home with a baby too sick for daycare because their mother could not afford to take off from work.

Burleson knew of a health clinic in the schools of Hart which was, at times, the only health center in the community. He and Mousavi, as well as then-principal Martha Berry, went to Hart to tour the health clinic, and then went to the state to secure funding. FISD received a three-year grant to start up the clinic. In 2007-08, they received $125,000; this year they received $90,000 and next year they will receive $65,000.

To start up the health clinic, Burleson said FISD partnered with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. Cathy Allen, a nurse practitioner employed by TTUHSC, is on-duty each morning from 8 a.m.-12 p.m.

Burleson said the school district works with parents to fill out Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program of Texas forms in order to obtain payment for services the children receive at the clinic. The district also accepts health insurance.

“We work with our parents,” he said.

“We are available to any student regardless of their ability to pay,” Mousavi said. The school will also work out payment plans or charge sliding fees for some students.

The effort is helping parents and children in several ways, he said. It is moving health care for basic needs from hospital emergency rooms to a regular clinic, where children will receive quicker service. It also helps students stay in school more.

Parents can fill out paperwork at the beginning of the year and have a child seen during the school day without the parent having to be present, Burleson said.

Psychologist Paul Douthit is now available at the clinic and at Reese once a week, with Dr. Paul Rogers writing prescriptions for behavioral issues such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Burleson said the district is working to make the health clinic sustainable once the grant money is gone.

“We don’t want to have it three years and shut the doors,” he said. “We need to find other funding to pay for the services of the nurse practitioner and the LVN. That’s the main cost.”

Since Willow Bend is a school designed for growth to 760 students, and it only has 550 students now, there were a few extra classrooms that could be converted to a health clinic, Burleson said. The district took two classrooms at the end of a hall that could be kept secure from the rest of the school building and converted them into a health clinic.

Burleson said the school board has been supportive of the establishment of the clinic.

“We’re excited about it, and it’s one of the things we feel we can give to our district,” he said.

Allen said that in her time as nurse practitioner, one way she has seen the clinic help children is in the number of asthmatics who now have that condition under control.

“Now almost everyone who has asthma has an inhaler in the nurse’s office. We think that’s made a difference” in the number of absences, Allen said.

“We do well checks, we do immunizations, we do flu vaccines, as well as taking care of kids who are sick,” she said.

“I know we have saved kids from going to the emergency room,” Mousavi said.

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