UPGRADE IN HEALTH SERVICES
Finding a place to sit in La Grande High Schools health center used to be as hard as finding a cure for the common cold.
LHSs School-Based Health Center was once so small that students occasionally found themselves on the floor while waiting to see a health professional. It was a frustrating situation.
People were sometimes lying on the floor, said Sandi Wanta, adolescent health nurse and program coordinator. You had to walk over them.
Wanta no longer has to watch her step.
The health centers facilities have been moved and upgraded dramatically. Today the center, operated by the Center for Human Development, is in a remodeled site near the middle of LHSs campus. It offers three times the space that the previous location plus more services.
We are able to do so much more for students, said Wanta, who is assisted by Shelly Miller, an adolescent health assistant.
For example, the added space means that nurse practitioners from the Center for Human Development now can come to the center to treat students. The nurse practitioners, who visit regularly, also do sports physicals throughout the school year for $35. The nurse practitioners who provide these services are Ginny Elder and Charlie Gillis.
LHSs students are taking note of the new services available at the health center.
The student visit rate is more than twice that of the 1999-2000 school year. So far this school year the center has had 1,200 student visits. It had 850 visits for the entire 1999-2000 school year.
It has been very well received. We have had very good input, said LHS Assistant Principal Jim Boen.
Boen, who has worked at two high schools in Western Oregon, said that LHSs health care center is by far the best he has seen.
LHSs old health center was in the southwest portion of the campus. It was not only smaller but far from the center of campus. The new location, about 150 feet east of LHSs office, is more accessible.
David Still, executive director of CHD, has been in charge of LHSs health center since it opened in 1986. He is also delighted to have the improved facilities and additional space. He too has vivid memories of the previously cramped center.
You literally had to step over people, Still said.
He is not surprised that the student visit rate is up.
Kids will use the the services if you bring them to them, Still said.
He said that a health center is particularly important in a rural setting like Eastern Oregon where many students come from families that do not have health insurance.
The cost of creating LHSs new health center was $42,000. Money was provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Center for Human Development, the Commission on Children and Families, the La Grande School District, Oregon Health Division and Adult and Family Services. Much of the money came from grants that Wanta had applied for.
Because the center offers more services it has been able to generate money through things such as sports physicals. The money has allowed the health center to expand its hours.
Boen said he is glad the center is open longer.
It is very nice to have Sandi here more. I definitely know when she is not here, Boen said.
The assistant principal has been particularly gratified to have the health center this school year because of a number of emergencies involving LHS students. The most recent happened several weeks ago and involved a student with an infection who started to go into shock. Wanta provided first aid and then the boy was taken to Grande Ronde Hospitals emergency room accompanied by Wanta.
The boy recovered and today his mother is giving LHSs health center a lions share of the credit, Boen said.
It was a real emergency and (the health center) did a great job of handling it, Boen said.
This school year Wanta has also provided first aid for a student who suffered a serious electrical shock, a student who suffered a broken broken bone in a car accident, and a boy who fractured two fingers during a physical education class.
The health center staff has dealt with many other emergencies since it opened in 1986.
When it opened it was one of the first in Oregon. Today there are 44 school-based health centers in Oregon high schools. The total includes four that started in 1986.
At one point LHS was in danger of losing its health center unless improvements were made. LHSs old health center was at risk of being shut down because it did not have have a bathroom, certain medical equipment and proper staffing
The new version of LHSs health center has a handicapped accessible restroom, new medical equipment and a larger staff. All were required in order to meet new Oregon Health Division standards that took effect Jan. 1.
We would not be operating today if we had not built a new center and added services, Wanta said.
The services provided for students at La Grande High Schools Student-Based Health Center are numerous and in some instances potentially life saving.
Following is a portion of what is available to LHS students. All of the services are free except the sports physicals:
vaccinations for hepatitis B, polio, the measles, rubella and tetanus;
sports physicals throughout the year at a cost of $35 per physical;
medication for emergency diabetes and asthma care;
referrals to physicians and other health professionals;
cessation classes for students who want to quit using tobacco.
self-esteem classes for girls age 15-17 where students are taught life skills aimed at helping them resist peer pressure to use alcohol and drugs;
emergency first aid;
information for girls on reproductive health;
nurse practitioners who visit regularly to examine and treat students with health problems;
referrals to Center for Human Development specialists such as drug and alcohol counselors and mental health professionals; and,
screenings for vision problems and eating disorders.
Many of the health centers services focus on outreach and prevention, said adolescent health nurse Sandi Wanta, program coordinator.
We want to catch students who are falling into risky behavior patterns, Wanta said.
As part of this program Wanta conducts a screening every sixth time a student visits. The screening is done to determine if the student is involved in any at-risk behaviors.
If the student has been doing things like riding in cars driven by friends who have been drinking, the teen-ager is counseled on how to avoid making the same mistake again.
We talk to them about different options, Wanta said.
Stories by Dick Mason
Photos by Erin Witten, Sara DeVore