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Bridging the health gaps

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    Students color at a health carnival held at Panther Valley by the Adopt-A-School program in May. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO
Published September 28. 2016 02:45PM

Panther Valley School District Superintendent Dennis Kergick speaks with compassion about students in Panther Valley, but he’s realistic about some of the health challenges that they face.

“It’s challenging enough living in a rural area, not having access to adequate medical care if you need it,” Kergick said.

But thanks to St. Luke’s Adopt-A-School program, students have been connected with eye doctors, asthma screenings, and healthy foods. The program got a big boost last year through a three-year grant from the federal government.

The goal of Adopt-A-School is connecting underserved students to health care resources that they wouldn’t have had otherwise, using models that have been proven in other parts of the country.

“To improve health outcomes, that’s our goal,” said Rosemarie Lister, community health liaison manager at the Network’s Miners Campus.

No matter how many different health services they include in the program, St. Luke’s officials are clear they are not trying to replace any existing medical services in the area.

“We’re growing every day. I think every day something new comes out or there’s a different need that we see,” Lister said.

Kergick’s input gave the program even more focus on the issues that actually affect Panther Valley students — like access to vision care. There are a lot of students whose families don’t have vision coverage, or can’t get a ride to the doctor.

“If you can’t see, you can’t read,” Kergick said.

He emphasized a need for treatment for mental health issues, drawing from his years of experience as an educator. That was something that even the Adopt-A-School team underestimated.

“There’s a certain stigma attached to mental health issues,” Kergick said. “But if they go undiagnosed or untreated, they can lead to some serious life decisions that harm all parties involved.

The Adopt-A-School program has connected students to the health care providers who address those issues — by transporting them to a doctor’s office, or bringing the doctor to them.

Each month, a van transports students to eye doctor Barry Schneider in Tamaqua. Schneider and his wife even come in on their day off to conduct free screenings.

They also bring care directly to the schools. A team of professionals will visit the school and conduct health screenings at the request of parents. A licensed clinical social worker is also on the van to provide a mental assessment if needed. It’s available to students in grades 6-12.

“They can be seen once a year, or as much as they want,” Kerri Quick, school-based districtwide coordinator at St. Luke’s, said. “The ultimate goal is to get them their own provider so they can be seen on a regular basis.”

They also conduct asthma screenings through Dr. Kirth Steele, a pulmonologist with St. Luke’s.

Beyond just connecting students and doctors, the program has reached hundreds of students through reading programs, mental health and substance abuse prevention programs, and a health carnival held at the conclusion of last school year.

One of the programs they’re most proud of is “live your life,” conducted by nurse navigator Lauri Price.

The program’s goal is to instill healthy habits in students. Of course students get some of that in their regular health classes. But the program is unique because they’re taught by their fellow students.

“They really take ownership of it. It is different hearing it from your peer than from a teacher,” Quick said.

In the next two years, they hope to connect even more students to the programs they’ve built over the last year. They also hope to continue efforts to get students to be more physically active.

“I think it’s important to say we adopted the school before the grant, and we will continue to adopt the school after the grant is not here. And we’ll also look at ways to sustain what we’re doing,” Lister said.

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