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NMS Health Center Presentation Held, Questions Addressed



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With a design of the planned grant-funded school-based health center for Newtown Middle School on display, a presentation was held on Thursday, October 30, in the auditorium of the Queen Street school.

After hearing several presentations and visiting site locations, the Board of Education unanimously approved the school-based health center for NMS in September.

Last week’s presentation was scheduled, according to a release from the school district for the event, to discuss and inform those in attendance about what types of services will be provided, how staff will work in partnership with NMS nurses, and what parents must do so their child can access services from the center.

While Thursday’s event was open to the public, only three members of the public attended. Also in attendance were the representatives of a group that formed to look into the possibility of the school-based health center. NMS Principal Thomas Einhorn, NMS Assistant Principal James Ross, and Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, were also in attendance.

School Based Health Centers of Danbury Director Melanie Bonjour and school district medical advisor Ana Paula Machado spoke during the event to offer insight into the planned center for NMS.

A video was shown near the start of Thursday’s presentation that shared testimonials about other school-based health centers in Connecticut.

“I’m thrilled that we have this opportunity to have this health center in our school,” said Mr Einhorn. “It’s certainly a need that we have and we are really looking forward to our kids being able to be seen and get some medical attention, and, as the video said, get them back to class as soon as possible.”

Ms Bonjour, a Newtown resident, said she is proud to “give back to my Newtown community” by bringing the health center to NMS. The NMS health center will be part of 88 health centers in Connecticut and over 2,000 in the country, according to Ms Bonjour. School-based health centers, Ms Bonjour said, began in the 1980s.

One common question Ms Bonjour said, is why the centers are needed in the more affluent communities.

“I think it is important to recognize that insurance or a lack of insurance, poverty or wealth doesn’t necessarily mean that you have access to family health care,” said Ms Bonjour. “There could be other barriers that could prevent access to health care in a community.”

Families, she said, could have difficulty finding available doctors, both parents may work further away, or there may be a lack of information about services. But having a health center where students are, Ms Bonjour said, makes it is easier to get the students access to those services.

“Our mission is healthy kids make better learners, and we truly believe that if a child [has] their medical issues and mental health issues addressed in a timely fashion, they are in the classroom and they have the ability to absorb the information the teaching staff are trying to give them,” said Ms Bonjour.

According to Ms Bonjour, the school-based health center will be staffed by a licensed nurse practitioner, a licensed clinical social worker, and a medical/office assistant.

Students, Ms Bonjour continued, will be able to access the services of the health center by having a parental permission slip on file.

“The services are available to any child that is in the middle school,” said Ms Bonjour. “As long as we have the parental permission slip, no child is denied services.”

When available, Ms Bonjour said, private insurance and Medicaid will be billed, but “there is no out-of-pocket cost and there is no payment issues regarding services.”

Dr Machado explained that the school-based health centers in Danbury have worked with local pediatricians. She also said if a child goes to the center with a possible case of strep throat, as an example, the student can be diagnosed right then. The child can be sent home with a prescription following such a diagnosis.

If a child proves to not have strep throat, Dr Machado said that student will be able to return to class immediately.

Dr Machado also said pediatricians will often work with school-based health center staff to monitor patients for mental health issues that may have differing symptoms, like frequent stomach aches or headaches.

Members of the public in attendance asked why the center was being brought to the middle school, and about how medical records would be handled by the center staff. 

Ms Bonjour said school-based health center records will be kept separate from school records and the centers follow the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) regulations.

Dr Erardi shared his “real simple answer” for why the health center was being implemented at the middle school. Pointing out that grants for the town will be running out in a year and a half, he said, “If someone said to me, would you be willing to take gifted, granted, one additional health provider at no cost, and would you be willing to take a high quality, high level health practitioner to work in partnership with your nurses office at no cost? I’d have a hard time saying No. That to me is a terrific transition from what we know we are going to lose, to a service that we know we have to have.”

Dr Erardi said he knows, based on data, that the mental health practitioners in the district are overwhelmed.

“I really feel blessed that this is a gift coming to us from the State of Connecticut that will have great oversight … And in the worst case scenario we know that students will be in school more often,” said Dr Erardi.

When the committee was first looking at bringing a health center to NMS, Ms Bonjour said they looked at the number of nurse visits over a three-year period, at the number of 211 calls made in the area, the increase of needed services in the middle school population, and at Newtown Youth & Family Services for mental health services used.

At NMS, Ms Bonjour said there are roughly 110 visits to the nurse’s office each school day.

“It really struck me that the community does have the needs,” said Ms Bonjour. “As many needs as any other community throughout the state.”

For those who may have questions but could not attend Thursday’s presentation, Dr Erardi said he anticipates another event being held before the center is set to open for students in January.

A design for the school-based health center at Newtown Middle School as prepared by Kaestle Boos was on view during a presentation held on Thursday, October 30.
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