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No-Cost Health Care : Newport-Mesa District Provides Free Vaccines, Screenings to Students

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Haydee Bonales worries about her children’s health care. With her family’s tight budget and no health insurance, the 34-year-old mother said, she can barely afford groceries ,let alone doctor visits for her three children.

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So when Bonales’ 12-year-old daughter, Janet, needed polio, TB and tetanus shots to enroll at TeWinkle Middle School this fall, the family turned to their school district for help.

On Wednesday, Janet joined the hundreds of other children who have gotten free shots and medical tests during the past week at a new clinic sponsored by the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and PacifiCare Foundation.

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School officials said the cooperative effort is part of a new push to get schools involved in providing more extensive preventive health care to children from low-income families.

“Many people think that there is no need for this kind of program in Newport Beach,” said Lucy Cunningham, president of the PacifiCare Foundation, the charitable arm of PacifiCare of California. “But with very few Medi-Cal providers and a large uninsured immigrant population present, access to basic health care services is a serious issue for these families.”

Since the clinic at the Rea Community Center opened Aug. 15, district schools have referred students from Newport Beach and Costa Mesa to the facility, where they can be immunized from measles, polio, tuberculosis and other diseases. The youngsters also receive physical examinations and hearing, vision and reading tests.

Like other school districts in California, the Newport-Mesa district receives funding through the state’s Healthy Start program to spend on preventive health care, nutrition or other programs.

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The state gave the Newport-Mesa district $400,000 over three years to run the clinic. To supplement the grant, PacifiCare contributed $70,000 and the Bristol Medical Group contributed medical supplies, organizers said.

For families like the Bonaleses, who get by on less than $1,500 each month, the clinic opened just in time for school.

On Wednesday, Bonales sat in the waiting room with her 12-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son and 8-month-old daughter.

The Bonaleses moved to Orange County from Mexico six years ago. While they wait to become citizens, only their baby, who was born here, is insured by Medi-Cal.

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Last year, her son, Fernando, received his shots at a private clinic, which cost the family “a lot” of money, their mother said. It was a necessary burden, she said.

“When I lived in Mexico, I would take my children to get a physical every six months,” Bonales said, balancing her baby daughter on her hip. “Here, I can’t do it. I can’t afford it.”

Doris Chekouras, the clinic’s only nurse, said most of her patients speak little English. “We always seem to manage no matter what language they speak,” Chekouras said while giving a 9-year-old girl a TB shot Wednesday.

Children are referred to the clinic from their school, based on an individual family’s needs.

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The clinic will be open throughout the school year and is at the Rea Community Center at 661 Hamilton St. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for health screenings and from 3 to 7 p.m. for immunizations. Appointments are required. Parents can contact their children’s schools for information.


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