Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District

Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District News Article

Heights Wellness Center Provides Care to Students, Staff, Families

Jan. 31, 2023 -- The grand opening of Heights High’s new Wellness Center on Tuesday, January 17 was the culmination of five years of work between The MetroHealth System’s School Health Program (SHP) and CH-UH’s efforts to enhance wrap-around services for students and families. But more than a culmination, it signified a beginning … of providing valuable, necessary health care to students, staff, and family members, right where they are.

The new Center boasts exam rooms, a basic laboratory, a waiting room, a separate restroom, a staff break room and a small classroom for use by both CHUH and SHP to use for education, trainings, or groups. Located on the bottom floor of the high school near the swimming pool, the space was renovated with a $500,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Education This funding was a part of the overall  award of just under $4.5 million that MetroHealth received from the Ohio Department of Health. The Heights Wellness Center is the first of several American Rescue Plan Act-funded projects across the state to provide expanded health care services in newly renovated school spaces.

While MetroHealth has been offering health care within the district for four years already, this new Wellness Center takes everything up a notch. The physical space provides both privacy for students and the necessary space and equipment to see increased numbers of students for regular care. Many come for ongoing care of chronic health conditions, such as asthma, while others are seeking referrals for anything from optometry to dermatology to mental health counseling.

One of the key features of this type of holistic medicine is the “warm hand-off” where MetroHealth’s staff, including Alvernese Ford, a Certified Community Health Worker who is at Heights High five days each week, helps students and families schedule their follow-up appointments. “We all know what it’s like to leave an appointment with a referral and then just ignore it,” says Dr. Vanessa Meier, who is the Medical Director for the entire School Health Program region and visits her alma mater Heights High every other Friday.

The warm hand-off is especially effective for students requiring follow-up mental health services, as everyone who comes to the Center completes a mental health screener, which is a standard of care for the School Health Program. Open and ongoing communication with district social workers and psychologists makes this kind of care especially successful.

While the school nurse Rose Varcelli and Nurse Aide Deb Scotese still see between 70 and 90 students each day in the Nurse’s office, they now have the ability to coordinate with MetroHealth’s providers to ensure that students are receiving the ongoing care they need, whether that means following up with a specialist or support for medication management. All of this leads to better school outcomes, especially in terms of attendance. Students can receive the vaccines required for school enrollment without missing school or can be seen for one-time issues such as strep throat or ear infections without their parents needing to schedule time off work.

As Dr. Maier says, “No child ever sat in class and said to themselves, ‘Maybe I’m not doing well in school because I have sleep apnea or depression,’ but these are the sorts of things we can capture with a simple one-time visit.” MetroHealth maintains a registry of all students who’ve filled out SHP consent forms and can check it for needed well-child visits, immunizations or follow-up care. That kind of in-depth care management is one of the benefits of school-based health clinics according to Dr. Meier.

The Center is able to see all district students regardless of building, any family members living in their household, and all district staff. With either Dr. Maier or Dr. Marcus Germany available every Friday and Nurse Care Coordinator Katherine Bissett there three to four days a week, the convenience factor is huge. They’ve seen up to fifteen new staff members since opening in mid-November for everything from tips for managing stress to ongoing care for chronic conditions like Type 2 diabetes, and frequently see over 20 students on any given Friday.

Communication with pediatricians and other health care providers is a main part of what they do; none of this is replacing traditional care. According to Dr. Maier, who says “we’re here to strengthen the bond with primary care providers,” pediatricians are often grateful that their patients are being seen, especially for conditions like asthma which can require visits every six weeks. The Center will bill insurance or Medicaid when able, and will help remove barriers to care by connecting students and their families to resources if uninsured.

One of the key benefits to providing this kind of in-school service to students is how it helps them take ownership over their own health care. According to Nurse Bissett, “This is a great way for adolescents to transition to independent care, a skill they’ll need in adulthood. Kids bring their whole selves to appointments and many of them have never had the depth of conversations with care providers before that they get here. They feel loved and seen and known and respected when they come in here.”

The MetroHealth staff deeply appreciate the buy-in from the district, which was spear-headed by Supervisor of Community and School Partnerships Nancy Peppler who worked closely with MetroHealth’s Executive Director of Community and Corporate Health Katie Davis Bellamy, as well as district Supervisor of Business Services George Petkac and his team who oversaw the renovation. The program has been championed by building Principal Dr. Alisa Lawson-McKinnie.

“We have robust communication with school staff, whether that be with the nurses regarding care, the principal regarding scheduling, or the athletic trainer for injuries and physicals,” said Nurse Bissett. Every student in grades 9 through 11 will receive a tour of the new space in the next few months through their science, health or PE classes.

More information, including the consent form (which only has to be filled out one time and will remain active as long as a student is enrolled in CH-UH schools) and a calendar of services both in the high school and through Metro’s mobile health vans can be found here.

superintendent kirby presents wellness center
wellness center ribbon cutting
heights wellness center lobby
wellness center exam room
heights wellness center lab

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