Faced with budget cuts and concerns about continuity of health care, Ventura County has stopped sending its public health nurses to the county’s five school clinics, and has launched partnerships that bring providers from semiprivate clinics onto nearby campuses.
Rather than limit the care the children are receiving, school and health officials say the new arrangement allows low-income families access to immunization and physical exams while they develop relationships with local doctors.
Some school officials say they were alarmed at first that the Public Health Services Department was pulling out of the schools.
“I was shocked and surprised,” said Moorpark District program coordinator Vishna Herrity, when she received a letter from public health in June detailing the new arrangement. “I thought we had a good relationship with them.”
But as she walked among the makeshift exam tables and donated equipment at the Centro de Salud Pediatrico on the Flory Elementary School campus last week, she said the new partnership was working out better than the old system.
Public health officials, who administer the school programs but no longer provide nurses, agreed.
“We thought that the bottom line was having continuity of care and some kind of medical home they can associate with,” said Paul Lorenz, Public Health Department administrator.
“One of the primary reasons we tried to go into schools was to reduce barriers, whether cultural or financial, and address children who didn’t have general access to care so we can get them into health services in a primary-care setting,” Lorenz continued.
The department has also set up partnerships for elementary schools in Ventura, Oxnard and Santa Paula.
“It’s an exciting concept,” said Linda Butcher, Oxnard school district nurse and coordinator of health services. “The families have been very receptive, and we’ve been able to help children.”
Before the new arrangement, students and their family members would be assessed by public health nurses, who would then send them to other doctors or clinics for treatment. Under the new plan, nurses and doctors from those clinics assess the patients they will later treat.
Moorpark resident Benita Veronica said she liked Centro de Salud’s new partnership with the nearby Moorpark Family Care Center. Her husband no longer has to miss a day of work to take their three young children to a Ventura clinic for low-income residents.
“I like to bring them here because they treat him nicely and it’s close for me,” Veronica said through an interpreter, watching her young son try not to squirm as the nurse practitioner looked inside his ear.
About 30 children and their parents fill up the clinic’s tiny waiting room in a trailer on the campus every Thursday, waiting to receive the free treatment. Under the new arrangement, the children’s records are kept at the Moorpark Family Care Center instead of at the county office, in case they need treatment on another day of the week.
The county’s five on-campus clinics are partially funded by state grants, but most rely on donated equipment and space.
The semi-private clinics providing care are reimbursed either through Medi-Cal or a state grant that caters to children living at or barely above the poverty level.
In addition to Flory Elementary, other schools with clinics include Sheridan Way Elementary in Ventura, Barbara Webster Elementary in Santa Paula, and Cesar Chavez and Norma Harrington elementary schools in Oxnard.
Butcher said the Oxnard district’s partnership with the Pediatric Diagnostic Center in Ventura has meant more expansive treatment for the students.
“It gives our children access to care with a pediatrician and has the ability to give them full services,” she said. “The same physician can follow them.”