Iowa City program offers free health services for kids

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Healthy Kids School-Based Clinics provided Kelly Alvarado the health care she needed to succeed as a student in the Iowa City Community School District.

Alvarado, 17, who graduated in May from Iowa City West High School, received free physicals and dental and dermatology care through the clinics. The physicals enabled her to play the sports she loved, including football as a seventh-grader and softball.

“I’m really grateful for the free medical care,” said Alvarado, who is saving money to go to college and has dreams of becoming either a mechanic or criminal profiler.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reports that Healthy Kids School-Based Clinics is celebrating 15 years of providing free services for children from birth through high school graduation who are uninsured, who cannot afford high deductibles or copays or who experience extreme barriers to accessing health care. To mark the anniversary, a goal is to raise $250,000 by March 1, 2023.

About 5 percent of students — 725 — in the Iowa City Community School District are uninsured, according to the clinics. The number does not include preschoolers and students from other districts who also use the clinics services. Three thousand children in Johnson County have no dental insurance.

“Healthy children learn better,” said Dr. Marguerite Oetting, co-founder and pediatrics medical doctor for the program. “It’s hard to pay attention in class if you’re having an asthma attack, bad eczema or ADHD and can’t get medications. You aren’t allowed to attend school if you don’t have proper immunizations. You can’t play sports if you don’t have a physical.”

To meet the need, the clinics need to offer 1,800 appointments a year — double the number they were able to provide in the 2021-22 school year. In addition to Iowa City students, the clinics serve children from Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City, and Clear Creek Amana and Solon and West Branch school districts.

Donations can help by opening more clinic sessions, paying for equipment and supplies to furnish a site, purchasing a refrigerator and freezer to store vaccines, pay for over-the-counter and prescription medications for children, cover psychological testing for learning and attention problems, buying inhalers, lab testing, transportation for families to and from appointments.

The clinic began as a collaboration between the Iowa City Community School District, Mercy Hospital, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and United Way after a community- needs assessment by the school district found some students weren’t thriving in school because of a lack of access to health care.

The district built three “full-fledged” clinics that feel like a traditional doctor’s office, Oetting said. Clinics are currently located inside Iowa City High School, Northwest Junior High School and South East Junior High School. Clinic workers also travel to Iowa City West High once a month.

Provider time is donated by the UI Hospitals and Clinics. A volunteer pediatrician and dermatologist come once a month.

Services include health care, mental health care, management of acute and chronic illness, dental care, vision care and referrals for lab tests X-rays and specialty care. The clinic also helps with the cost of medications, lab tests, glasses and other services.

The clinic tries to alleviate barriers to care whenever possible. For example, taxis are provided for people without transportation. Parents must give consent, but do not need to accompany teens to every appointment, which decreases parents’ time away from work.

There are over 2,500 school-based clinics in the United States, another of which is Metro Care Connection in Cedar Rapids.

The clinics’ annual operating budget is between $170,000 and $180,000. Funds for Healthy Kids School-Based Clinics come from the city of Iowa City, small grants and United Way. The clinics have an endowment of $2 million initiated by Mercy Hospital. The dream is for the endowment to grow to $5 million for the clinics to “live off,” said Anne Vandenberg, chair of the advisory board.

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