NEW CUMBERLAND - The Hancock County School District is looking to expand its health care services to elementary pupils beyond what the traditional school nurse offers.
District officials want to establish school-based health centers at Allison Elementary in Chester during the 2012-13 school year and at the new Weirton Elementary School in 2014.
Earlier this week, the school board approved a lease agreement with C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc., a nonprofit agency that already provides health care services in Weirton. Under the agreement, C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc. would operate centers offering more comprehensive health care services and adjoining each of the schools.
"Any little hiccup that happens during the day, we're going to take care of it. We're going to try to keep that child in school," said Judy Raveaux, chief executive of C.H.A.N.G.E.
School-based health centers are a growing phenomenon in West Virginia, but Hancock County and the rest of the Northern Panhandle have been slow to get on board. Currently, there are 68 centers serving 80 schools in 28 counties, according to the West Virginia School-Based Health Assembly.
"I do think there's a need in the Northern Panhandle," said Kelli Caseman, WVSBHA executive director.
Such centers are like having a doctor's office on school grounds, Caseman said. With parents' permission, health centers provide basic health services such as immunizations, asthma and diabetes management, well-child checkups and nutrition counseling, she said.
Medical care is the responsibility of qualified health care providers, not the school, and the centers usually are staffed by a nurse practitioner or medical doctor during school hours, Raveaux said.
School-based health centers offer convenience for both students and their parents, although they're not meant to replace children's primary care providers or urgent care providers, Raveaux said.
"We work hand in hand with them," she said. "Parents will be notified before any medical treatment is done, and all results will be sent home and to the primary care provider."
Many West Virginia students don't have regular access to, or cannot afford, health care, so that's where school-based health centers come in, Raveaux said.
Frank Carey, principal of Weirton Heights Elementary, told school board members earlier this week that a health center can help with the problem of tracking and administering proper immunizations for transient students - students whose families move from school district to school district.
"Every child in Weirton age 3 to 10 would have health care, provided the parents sign the permission slip," Carey said.
School board members were anxious to squelch rumors that such a center would be a repository for narcotics and other controlled substances or be open to the general public.
"This is strictly a health facility for students - nothing more, nothing less," board President Jerry Durante said.
If funding is approved, the health center at Weirton Elementary would be the largest in West Virginia because the school is expected to have 950 students, Durante said. The school, scheduled to be completed in two years, will unite Liberty, Broadview and Weirton Heights elementary under one roof.
Raveaux said Hancock County Schools stand a good chance of receiving federal funding in the form of a $500,000 grant. About $50,000 of that would be used for renovations to Allison Elementary.
"We would like to target that one first because that's the least of the renovations," Raveaux said. If the school district receives the grant, it likely will be awarded in December, Caseman said.