Iowa City program offers free health services for children

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Healthy Kids School Clinics provided Kelly Alvarado with the health care she needed to succeed as a student in the Iowa City Community School District.

Alvarado, 17, who graduated in May from Iowa City West High School, received free physical, dental and skin care at the clinics. The physical exams allowed her to play the sports she loved, including seventh-grade football and softball.

“I’m really grateful for the free medical care,” said Alvarado, who is saving money for college and dreams of becoming a mechanic or a criminal profiler.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reports that Healthy Kids School-Based Clinics is celebrating 15 years of free services for children from birth to high school graduation who are uninsured, who cannot afford deductibles or high countries or who face extreme barriers to accessing health care. To mark this anniversary, the goal is to raise $250,000 by March 1, 2023.

According to the clinics, about 5% of students – 725 – in the Iowa City Community School District are uninsured. The number does not include preschoolers and students from other districts who also use clinic services. Three thousand children in Johnson County don’t have dental insurance.

“Healthy children learn better,” said Dr. Marguerite Oetting, co-founder and pediatrician of the program. “It’s hard to pay attention in class if you have an asthma attack, severe eczema or ADHD and you can’t get medication. You are not allowed to go to school if you do not have the appropriate vaccinations. You can’t play sports if you don’t have a physique.

To meet the need, clinics must offer 1,800 appointments per year, double the number they were able to provide in the 2021-22 school year. In addition to Iowa City students, the clinics serve children from the Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City and the Clear Creek Amana and Solon and West Branch school districts.

Donations can help by opening more clinic sessions, paying for equipment and supplies to furnish a site, buying a fridge and freezer to store vaccines, paying for over-the-counter and prescription drugs for children, covering psychological testing for learning and attention problems, purchase of inhalers, lab tests, transportation for families to and from appointments.

The clinic began as a collaboration between the Iowa City Community School District, Mercy Hospital, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and United Way after a community needs assessment by the district education revealed that some students were not thriving in school due to a lack of access to health care.

The district has built three “full-fledged” clinics that resemble a traditional doctor’s office, Oetting said. The clinics are currently located inside Iowa City High School, Northwest Junior High School, and South East Junior High School. Clinic workers also travel to Iowa City West High once a month.

Provider time is donated by UI hospitals and clinics. A volunteer pediatrician and dermatologist come once a month.

Services include health care, mental health care, acute and chronic disease management, dental care, vision care, and referrals for lab tests, X-rays, and specialty care. The clinic also helps with the cost of medications, lab tests, glasses, and other services.

The clinic tries to mitigate barriers to care wherever possible. For example, taxis are provided for people without means of transport. Parents must give consent, but do not need to accompany teens to every appointment, reducing the time parents spend away from work.

There are over 2,500 school clinics in the United States, another of which is Metro Care Connection in Cedar Rapids.

The annual operating budget for the clinics is between $170,000 and $180,000. Funding for Healthy Kids School Clinics comes from the City of Iowa City, Small Grants and United Way. The clinics have a $2 million endowment initiated by Mercy Hospital. The dream is for the endowment to reach $5 million for the clinics to “live on,” said Anne Vandenberg, chair of the advisory board.

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