FREEPORT — Last year, Rhonda Wade faced a dilemma familiar to educators: She had pinkeye, but her schedule didn’t allow ample time for a visit to her regular physician.

Fortunately for the Velasco Elementary principal, an antibiotic prescription required only a short walk down the hall to the school-based health center, located in the nurse’s office.

“I couldn’t get in to see my doctor until the next day, so I went to see them and they shot in a prescription,” Wade said. “I got it by that evening.”

Since the Stephen F. Austin Community Health Clinic opened the center last year, Nurse Practitioner Laura Gordon and Medical Assistant Melanie Gutierrez have spent every weekday morning at Velasco Elementary, providing expedient health care to staff and students who might lack the time or resources to get it elsewhere.

“The whole goal is to have me 100 percent dedicated to the program and see as many students as possible,” Gordon said.

The Affordable Care Act appropriated $200 million for 2010 through 2013 to support capital grants to improve and expand services at school-based health centers, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration website. The act awarded $95 million to 278 school-based health centers in July 2011, enabling them to serve an additional 440,000 patients, according to the website.

With 86 percent of its student population qualifying as economically disadvantaged, Velasco Elementary was a natural choice to kick off the program in Brazosport ISD, Wade said.

“With limited resources, it’s sometimes hard to go where medical provision is,” the principal said. “They’re right in the building, so it’s helpful for our students.”

Teachers passed out consent and liability forms for the center at the beginning of the school year in August, Gutierrez said, but if a student isn’t in the system, the nurse practitioner will call his or her parent for permission before evaluating them and prescribing medication as needed.

The center bills the parents’ insurance company, with an income-based sliding scale ranging from $10 to $20 for students without insurance, Gutierrez said.

“The patient will get good care and they won’t have to wait to make an appointment with the pediatrician,” Gordon said.

“We’re trying to save working parents time.”

Having Gordon on hand minimizes the amount of classroom time students miss while recovering, Gutierrez said.

“Essentially it’s less time out of school because we can receive them and they can go home, get better and then they don’t have to wait to get into a doctor’s office before they come back,” she said.

Clinic employees currently are awaiting approval from the federal government to open a second center at Lanier Middle School, but Gordon said she hopes to expand the services to all Freeport campuses.

“Our goal is to go to all the schools — when we’re needed, the school nurse would just call us and we’d come in,” she said.

The center doesn’t aim to replace children’s primary physicians, but rather to provide affordable and convenient care to all students and staff, Gutierrez said.

“We aren’t by any means trying to replace their primary care physician — we’re just trying to be convenient,” she said. “Anything that’s done here, we are more than willing to share with the pediatrician.”

Erinn Callahan is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0150.

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