By LYNN LOFTON
Improving the health of all Mississippians is one of the goals of the University of Mississippi Medical Center. What better way to start than working with students? Students at Lanier High School in Jackson will learn how to adopt a healthier lifestyle in addition to receiving primary medical care when they visit the school’s new Teen Wellness Clinic, a partnership between Jackson Public Schools, UMMC and the University of Mississippi School of Nursing.
The school is in the city’s Georgetown community. UMMC is providing financial and staffing support to revitalize the former in-school clinic at Lanier, which has about 800 students in grades 9-12. The plan is for the clinic to be permanent. There is a nurse-managed health clinic operated by UMMC and the School of Nursing at Johnson Elementary and a joint clinic at Brown Elementary and Rowan Middle School.
Lanier High School was chosen because there was a vacant established clinic space, and the president of the Lanier Alumni Association reached out to Dr. Jimmy Keeton, who was the UMMC vice chancellor at the time. “UMMC staff were asked for assistance. After a tour of the clinic, Dr. Keeton made a commitment for UMMC to help in some way,” said Dr. Janet Harris, professor and associate dean for Practice and Community Engagement and director of the DNP Program in the School of Nursing.
“There was an established clinic space at Lanier that Dr. Aaron Shirley originally constructed through a grant. The space had been vacant for several years,” said Kate Fouquier, assistant professor in the School of Nursing and director of the Lanier Clinic. “Prior to his death, we were working with Dr. Shirley to re-establish a clinic at Lanier.”
Jackson School District Superintendent Dr. Cedrick Gray said in a UMMC news release: “It’s no secret that when students feel better, they perform better in the classroom. The Lanier High School Teen Wellness Clinic will increase student attendance and achievement by providing medical services to students.”
Harris said in the release that establishing the clinic is a natural progression for UMMC. “Across the board, we identify vision needs, dental needs and comprehensive general health-care needs, and we provide education about their health.”
According to Fouquier, the Teen Wellness Clinic is innovative in that it combines health outreach with clinical care in a new school-based health clinic run by an academic health science center. “The clinic’s services include treatment for acute and chronic illnesses as well as referrals to appropriate health care when an illness or treatment is out of the scope of practice for the nurse practitioner,” she said. “Just as importantly, the clinic’s wellness emphasis includes a focus on good decision-making to avert risky behavior that can have a lifelong impact.”
Parental consent is required for students to receive medical treatment. “Additionally, with parental consent, we can connect the students with eye care and dental care,” Fouquier said. “Students may receive confidential reproductive health screening and treatment without parental consent. This includes STI testing/treatment, pregnancy testing and contraception. We do not have on-site contraceptives, so we work with students to include their parents in this discussion. Parents will be notified of any serious illnesses. For teens who may become pregnant, we will work with the students to notify their parents.”
The clinic is staffed by UMMC nurse practitioner CeNedra Lee, patient care technician Rosalind Basham, and Priscilla Sterling, an AmeriCorps community health worker.
“We will take care of episodic health-care needs. We’re not competing with students’ primary care providers,” Harris said.
“We are on the spot to take care of their needs, and if they need referrals to specialists, we will do that in collaboration with their physicians. We’re tracking the number of referrals from our clinics so that we can measure the impact.”
The insurance companies of students with insurance will be billed for the students’ visits. No student will be turned away for lack of payment, however, and the clinic staff will work with the un-insured to obtain Medicaid.
Today’s teens face multiple barriers to care and preventive health services, among them ability to pay, lack of transportation and concerns that family or friends will learn personal details of their health needs, Fouquier noted.
“The Teen Wellness Clinic seeks to address underlying aspects of the social and cultural conditions that affect reproductive risk-taking behaviors with strategies designed to improve the underlying social conditions themselves,” she said.
The clinic will continue the mission of beloved Mississippi physician Dr. Aaron Shirley, who more than three decades ago brought preventive health care to Lanier when he became the force behind its first health clinic operation.
“His love was making sure everyone had access to health care,” Terrence Shirley, son of the late Aaron Shirley and the administrator of UMMC’s Department of Radiation Oncology, said in the release. “He was a graduate of Lanier, so it was his baby.”