Bridgeport school opens health clinic
BRIDGEPORT — With as much excitement as could be mustered, a couple of dozen officials jammed into a small alcove off the principal’s office at Tisdale Elementary School this week as the city’s 15th school-based health clinic was opened.
By next week, up to 700 more city students in need of a physical exam or shot before they can start school won’t have to miss classes — and acute asthma attacks won’t necessarily require a trip to the emergency room.
“It’s a long time in coming,” Tisdale Principal Charmaine Worthy said of a four-year effort to get the clinic.
The school will survive with or without the hotly debated Affordable Care Act.
“Our revenue is generated from patient fees and Medicaid,” said Ludwig Spinelli, chief executive officer of Optimus Health Care Inc. “See enough children and it should be a wash between costs and billing. Our goal is to see as many kids as we can.”
Tisdale has 700 students and a campaign is under way now to sign children up. The class that returns the most parental permission slips — a student’s ticket into the clinic —will win a pizza party, Worthy said.
There are now 15 school-based health clinics in city schools.
They include: Bassick High School, Central High School, Harding High School, Fairchild Wheeler High School, Blackham, Curiale, Read, Roosevelt, Batalla, Columbus, Barnum/Waltersville, Dunbar, JFK Campus and now Tisdale
In addition, a school-based health center is located in Bullard-Havens Technical High School in Bridgeport
Optimus is one of two public health care centers in the city. The other is Southwest. Together, the agencies are in 15 city schools, counting Tisdale.
In addition, Optimus services Bullard Havens Technical High School, which is run by the state, as well as Platt Tech in Milford.
The two agencies took over running school-based clinics from the city in 2009.
Statewide, there are 130 health centers in 26 communities. About 94 receive state grants to help with operating costs.
Nationwide there are nearly 2,000, according to the most recent National Assembly on School-Based Health Care census. Most are open every day school is in session.
Help for uninsured
“I had to write a letter expressing my desire for it,” Worthy said of her newly opened clinic. “ It took several years from the approval to reach this day.”
The city school board approved Tisdale for a health center two years ago. Then came federal and state approval, plus scraping together start up costs.
Officials estimate it costs as much as $300,000 annually to staff a school-based health center with a nurse practitioner, medical assistant, part time social worker and dental hygienist.
In Tisdale’s case, the dental hygienist part has been in place since 2008, and is provided by the University of Bridgeport.
Despite the Affordable Care Act, there are still a good number of children in the city that go uninsured, said Katherine S. Yacovone, president of Southwest.
“It is a safety net,” agreed Linda Smith, director of the Optimus’ school based health centers.
Both Southwest and Optimus bill for services rendered to children who are covered by Medicaid or private insurance. But every child is seen, regardless of insurance status. Families without insurance are not billed.
In the current school year, Southwest has 3,544 students enrolled across its seven School-based Health Centers, which have racked up 4,970 visits.
Optimus has about 3,500 students enrolled at the schools it services. One is at Barnum/Waltersville, where about 80 percent of students have signed up.
Barnum Principal Ralph Paladino called it a wonderful asset.
On the same day Tisdale held a ribbon cutting for its health center, Barnum’s center was a busy place.
“If I wasn’t here, his mom would have to come get him,” Casbarro said. “Take him to the doctor or the ER.”
Instead she will leave with a prescription Casbarro was able to write.
Next in line was Julieth Ramos, 6, who waited for Casbarro to perform a physical examination which would get the new student into a kindergarten class.
Julieth’s mom, Gabriela Padilla, spoke no English, so a second cousin was there to translate. Her cousin said Padilla was grateful for the service.
Casbarro said in addition to providing acute care, she can run wellness, nutrition and yoga classes, and get to know students.
Her office is open five days a week during school hours.
As will Jessica Mauro’s office, the advanced practice nurse assigned to Tisdale.
Perhaps no one is more excited than Tricia Johnson, Tisdale’s school nurse.
Until now it has been just her juggling students who require insulin shots, Epi-pens and asthma pumps daily.
“In between, its just triage,” Johnson said. “This is vital.”