Multi-million dollar health care initiative taking root at city charter school

ByDakarai Turner

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When kids get sick or need to see a doctor, some parents are forced to rely on the emergency room, but the idea that they could instead get a full-range of treatment right at their school is spurring a multi-million dollar initiative at a charter school in Baltimore, believed to be the first of its kind in the country.

It aims to update what some say is an outdated model to student healthcare.

At many schools in the Baltimore City school district, one nurse makes the rounds at multiple schools. At KIPP Baltimore’s charter academy on Greenspring Ave., multiple nurse practitioners, nurses and a doctor are at the school while classes are in session.

It’s part of a $5 million grant funded by the Norman and Ruth Rales Foundation being utilized by the John’s Hopkins Children’s center. The initiative, called the Ruth and Norman Rales Center for the Integration of Health and Education, is headquartered at the children’s center, and offers a “wraparound, fully-integrated model of health and education.”

The Rales Educational and Health Advancement of Youth, or READY program, is a model the center launched at KIPP Baltimore’s Greenspring Ave. location — KIPP Harmony Academy and KIPP Ujima Village — and serves 1,500 students in kindergarten to eighth grade.

The program allows students to access to a full-time clinic for health care and other wellness services.

“Somewhere between 80 and 100 kids walk through our doors each day,” said Dr. Katherine A. Connor, medical director at the Rales Health Center at KIPP Baltimore.

The clinic is where kids come for more than playground bruises or to lie down. They come for vision, hearing and dental management, and if need be, a lab is available, where Connor screens for a range of potential health problems.

“If they were coming in, for example, for a well-child check-up, they might need led screening or a blood count screening. We might need to do testing, like throat cultures,” Connor said.

Samaria Trueheart, in the sixth grade at the school, said the program has paid dividends since its launch in Aug.

“They also taught me how to exercise and how to hold my own with my arms and my legs, and how to breathe out my stress,” Truheart said.

The thinking, for the initiative, is that kids who suffer from chronic conditions are more likely to miss school and fall behind in classes, so the full-gamut of wraparound activities allow students to get just about any service, when it comes to health care, right at their school. Therefore, parents don’t miss work, and instead of going to the emergency room for certain issues, kids come to the clinic.

Some families maintain private insurance, but the center doesn’t turn away the ones who don’t.

“We’re saving health care dollars in the work that we do here by really focusing on prevention, by averting emergency room department visits,” Connor said.

KIPP was chosen to house the program for five years during a pilot. It will be studied to determine if it’s able to be replicated in other places. Though no kid is turned away from health service, the goal is one day for the program to become self-sustainable.

According to the school, 83 percent of the families in its northwest Baltimore community from low-income backgrounds, which could mean one less thing to think about equates to a future primed for success.