Cleveland, OH,
12:30 PM

MetroHealth School Health Program: Whole Child, Whole Community

MetroHealth School Health Program mobile unit

About 80% of a person’s health depends on factors beyond the hospital walls. Here’s how the Institute for H.OP.E. – in particular, the team’s School Health Program – is addressing the disparities that prevent far too many children from receiving the care they need.

For the MetroHealth School Health Program team, a school parking lot is as good a place as any to see patients.

“Our goal is to meet our patients where they are, and for five days a week, that is at a school,” says Katie Davis, MSN, RN, PHNA-BC, Director, Center for Health Outreach, Access & Prevention at MetroHealth. “A visit to the doctor’s office can mean a caregiver missing work, a student missing school, or both. We are removing that obstacle for so many families.”

By bringing MetroHealth’s providers and the School Health Program mobile unit to schools throughout Cuyahoga County, children who might otherwise have difficulty connecting with a medical professional can get the care they need, including physicals, chronic disease management, immunizations, mental health screenings and the like. The School Health Program also functions as an added layer of expertise for districts and their school nurses.

“They’re always just a phone call away,” says Carol Pennington, MSN, RN, LSN, Interim Director of Nursing and Health Services at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. “MetroHealth is part of our team.”

Health and education are closely linked. Research suggests that healthy students are more likely to attend school and ultimately graduate. In fact, MetroHealth’s own data shows that students served by the School Health Program have greater access to primary care, fewer emergency room visits, fewer absences, and better grades.

Partnership is at the core of the School Health Program’s work – partnerships anchored in trust with schools, students and their families. It also means working with other organizations in Cleveland to address all factors that could impact student health, including access to safe housing, food insecurity, legal concerns and more.

That holistic approach to student health is what Nancy Peppler most appreciates about MetroHealth’s partnership with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District. The MetroHealth team staffs a clinic at the district’s high school and its mobile unit visits the elementary and middle schools.

“At the core of our relationship with MetroHealth is partnership,” says Peppler, the district’s Supervisor of Community and School Partnerships. “They’ve been able to develop such a strong partnership with our nurses and the social workers in our buildings to serve our students.”

For example, if a student’s asthma is being triggered by unhealthy living conditions, the School Health Program team might connect the family with an agency that supplies housing assistance or the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cleveland to work with the landlord.

In many cases, the Institute for H.O.P.E.™ connects students and their families with resources through Unite Ohio, the coordinated care network of more than 130 health and social service agencies that launched last year. Common referrals include the Greater Cleveland Food Bank for meal assistance and the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging for utility and rental support.

“Whole child, whole community – that is exactly what the School Health Program is about,” Davis says. “It takes all of us working together to build a healthier future for our community’s youth.”

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic deepened the disparities the School Health Program was designed to address. As such, it’s taken on a leading role in the community during the pandemic to ensure districts and their leaders have the resources they need to make the best decisions for their staffs and students.

For example, MetroHealth’s Vanessa Maier, MD, MPH, serves as the COVID-19 Medical Director for Breakthrough Schools – a network of high-performing charter schools in Cleveland. In this role, Dr. Maier offers guidance on safety protocols, contact tracing and the like to Breakthrough’s leadership. Dr. Maier has become a trusted voice nationally during the pandemic through her work with the ABC Science Collaborative, a national consortium of medical and education leaders committed to keeping staff and students safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Having her as a resource has been a huge asset,” said Tyler Thornton, Breakthrough Schools’ Chief Operating Officer. “We’re not figuring this all out on our own.”

To view the latest quarterly report from the Institute for H.OP.E.™, which includes this story and its latest social determinant of health screening data, click here. For more information about the Institute, visit

About The MetroHealth System

The MetroHealth System is redefining health care by going beyond medical treatment to improve the foundations of community health and well-being: affordable housing, a cleaner environment, economic opportunity and access to fresh food, convenient transportation, legal help and other services. The system strives to become as good at preventing disease as it is at treating it.

The system’s more than 600 doctors, 1,700 nurses and 7,800 employees go to work each day with a mission of service, to their patients and to the community. As Cuyahoga County’s safety-net health system, MetroHealth plays an essential role in the region, caring for anyone and everyone, regardless of an ability to pay.

Founded in 1837, MetroHealth operates four hospitals, four emergency departments and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites throughout Cuyahoga County. The system serves more than 300,000 patients, two-thirds of whom are uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

MetroHealth is home to Cuyahoga County’s most experienced Level I Adult Trauma Center, verified since 1992, and Ohio’s only adult and pediatric trauma and burn center.

As an academic medical center, MetroHealth is committed to research and to teaching and training tomorrow’s caregivers. Each active staff physician holds a faculty appointment at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Its main campus hospital houses the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Lincoln-West School of Science & Health, the only high school in America located inside a hospital.

Knowing that good health is about much more than good medical care, MetroHealth has launched the Institute for H.O.P.E.™ (Health, Opportunity, Partnership, Empowerment), which uses a coordinated, collaborative and strategic approach to help patients with non-medical needs such as healthy food, stable housing and job training.

The MetroHealth Glick Center, a new 11-floor hospital, is under construction on the system’s main campus in Cleveland and is scheduled to welcome its first patients in October 2022. The billion-dollar project is the cornerstone of a wider neighborhood revitalization effort led by the system and its partners in the community.

For more information, visit