MetroHealth's School Health Program Combats Deepening Disparities
John Yousef spent the first few weeks of the pandemic glued to his phone.
He’d prefer to see his patients on MetroHealth’s mobile unit outside their schools, but because of widespread building closures brought on by the pandemic, virtual visits would have to do.
Yousef, a veteran advanced practice registered nurse with the MetroHealth School Health Program, was especially worried about his patients with asthma – one of the leading medical reasons children miss school – and mental health challenges.
“Did they have the medication they needed? If not, did they have transportation to get it? Did they have someone to talk to?” Yousef said. “Those first few weeks were really rough. It’s much easier to pull a student from class for a well visit than track them down by phone.”
In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic deepened the disparities the School Health Program was designed to overcome. By bringing MetroHealth’s providers like Yousef directly to schools, children who might otherwise have difficulty connecting with a health care professional can get the care they need: chronic disease management, immunizations, mental health care and more.
“When a lot of our partnering school districts shut their doors, we had to pivot like the rest of our organization,” said Vanessa Maier, MD, Medical Director for the School Health Program, which is part of the MetroHealth Institute for H.O.P.E.. “Other pressing health needs didn’t disappear because of the pandemic. We had to find new ways to reach them.”
Those new ways, of course, included well visits over the phone or video. Team members also drove to patients’ homes to deliver food and other supplies.
Eventually, in-person visits resumed. During the summer, MetroHealth partnered with University Settlement to host a back-to-school clinic in Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood to ensure students received the care – and immunizations – they needed.
Over the last few months, Yousef and the mobile-unit team returned to several Cleveland Metropolitan School District buildings – even though students were largely still learning remotely. Dr. Maier has spent her time in the clinic at Cleveland Heights High School, her alma mater.
It was an important step back to normalcy, as routine pediatric visits plummeted more than 60% amid the pandemic. That adds up to thousands of missed immunizations and well visits in Cleveland alone.
“For many of these scholars, this is where they feel comfortable receiving care, and that’s because of the strong relationships our providers have built with these kids,” said Katie Davis, MSN, Director, Center for Health Outreach, Access & Prevention at MetroHealth. “They truly make an effort to get to know them by asking how things are going inside and outside the classroom.”
With the return of in-person schooling on the horizon for many, Dr. Maier and her colleagues continue to field questions from local education leaders about the best ways to keep their teachers and students safe. She often spends her evenings on Zoom, sharing the latest science about the coronavirus with local school boards.
As for Yousef, he’s eager to see the kids he hasn’t spoken with over the phone.
“A lot these kids open up quite a bit to us,” Yousef said. “Being there, talking with them and figuring out how to make them feel better is the best part of my job."
Healthy Students = Strong Learners
In honor of School-Based Health Care Awareness Month, please join (virtually, of course) MetroHealth and the CWRU Schubert Center for Child Studies at noon on Friday, February 26, for a screening of the brief documentary Healthy Students = Strong Learners, followed by a panel discussion about the critical importance of collaboration between educators and health care providers and the push to expand into more schools. To register, please click here.
- Dr. Erron Bell, Medical Director, Primary Care, MetroHealth, Cleveland Heights Medical Center
- Eric Gordon, CEO, Cleveland Metropolitan School District
- Habeebah Grimes, CEO, Positive Education Program
- Katie Davis, Director, Center for Health Outreach, Access & Prevention, MetroHealth
- Dr. Vanessa Maier, Medical Director, School Health Program, MetroHealth
Founded in 1837, MetroHealth is leading the way to a healthier you and a healthier community through service, teaching, discovery, and teamwork. Cuyahoga County’s public, safety-net hospital system, MetroHealth meets people where they are, providing care through four hospitals, four emergency departments, and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites. Each day, our 8,000 employees focus on providing our community with equitable health care–through patient-focused research, access to care, and support services–that seeks to eradicate health disparities rooted in systematic barriers. For more information, visit metrohealth.org.