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Memorial Hermann Helping Disadvantaged Students With Complete Care

HOUSTON, TX (August16, 2016)

The start of the school year is less than a week away. By providing free immunizations and physicals for students, Memorial Hermann hospital is making sure every child can meet the medical requirements to get in school or an after-school activity.

But for low-income families or those without insurance the “Health Centers for Schools” program becomes much more. Open year-round, the clinics are turning healthcare prerequisites into complete medical care for disadvantaged children.

Deborah Ganelin  is the head of the program.  She says through local clinics set up at various schools the hospital is able to become “a primary care home for these kids in terms of medical, mental health, dental and nutritional care.”

Now in its 20th year of existence, the clinics are available to more than 65,000 children in the five school districts participating in the program. Ganelin says they treat about 13,000 students from 71 different schools, which means almost one-in-five eligible students are accessing the free health care.

Malik McClendon was at the clinic at Terry High School in Rosenberg to get a physical so he can play basketball this fall. His mother Regina Williams calls the clinic a blessing.

“I really appreciate it because when we first came I didn’t have insurance and it helped me a lot, for me to get dental care for them and their physicals and things like that,” says Williams

Not only has the clinic given her children free health care, but through a social worker Williams was able to find health insurance. That’s just one example of how comprehensive the program is trying to be for the children. Kristen Adams is a pediatric nurse practitioner. She says they’re continually looking for ways to be proactive with the service they provide.

“We see a lot of obese students who are working with our dietitian and we have seen an improvement. We also held a boot camp this summer just to help motivate them and teach them about eating healthy, introduce them to some healthy foods, and exercise,” Adams says.

Mental health is also addressed through the clinics. Social workers have been a part of the program since it began in 1996. For Ganelin, the reasons are obvious. 

“Mental health issues are often undiagnosed. They often impact physical health,” Ganelin says.

According to an annual survey published by the American Psychological Association, about 30 percent of teens report feeling sad, depressed or overwhelmed because of stress.

Ganelin says that each clinic will see about 1,100 students each year to deal with mental health issues. But that number pales in comparison to the number of children who visit one of three mobile dental vans.

Dr. Mahasti Chalajour is a dentist who considers helping children a life calling.

“It’s not a job actually it’s fun, you know I don’t look at it as a job I look at (it) to come to do what I love to do every day,” Chalajour says.

About 30 percent of the kids Chalajour sees each day are first time patients.

Overall, Memorial Hermann spends $3 million a year on the program; another $1.6 million is raised from local foundations, state and federal grants. Ganelin says the program ultimately is bringing the same care to disadvantaged families that those that can afford quality healthcare receive.

Chalajour says reason the program works is easy to see. 

“Collection of exceptional people, receptive to community, culture, they know what these children are going through,” Chalajour says. 

The clinics are open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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