St. Helena schools-based health centers lose funding

Doctors at clinics outraged

Monday, January 24, 2011 - 7:15pm

ST. HELENA PARISH, La (NBC33) -- Another big blow to the crumbling school system in St. Helena parish. The health clinics at several schools will lose some of their funding.

"If you think the conditions is heartbreaking, what about the condition of the kids?" asks medical director, Dr. Joseph Freeman.

The students in the St. Helena school system rely on federally qualified health centers in the parish for their medical needs. "These kids have medical problems, behavioral health problems, serious medical problems that haven't been diagnosed for years."

The Southeast Community Health System has clinics at each of the three schools in Greensburg. "For the majority of these kids, we're their only shot," he says.

Recently, the Office of Public Health cut funding the elementary and middle school clinics. "I was alarmed, saddened, dismayed," says Freeman. "Why would you take this away from these children who we all have known don't have anything at all?"

Doctors in St. Helena say the funding was pulled without cause, but the Department of Health and Hospitals says differently. According to DHH, the school-based health centers in St. Helena parish have been having problems since 2009. A spokesperson for DHH says the organization gave those school-based health centers a year to clean up their act, but after a review in November of 2010, they found the same problems.

Freeman says he doesn't agree. "What they're saying, it's just not true."

Around the same time, physicians from the Joint Commission on Healthcare found their school-based systems to pass all qualifications for federal funding. "None of the findings that were notated by the Office of Public Health were noticed by the Joint Commission," says CEO of the Southeast Community Health Systems. "I've begun to question the validity of the report."

The money from OPH stops going to the clinics in February, and doctors worry this is going to negatively affect the amount of care they can give each student. "Where will they go?" asks Dr. John Fidanza, director of behavioral health, "Will they go to Hammond 40 minutes away? Will they go to Baton Rouge an hour away? What will happen to these children?"

The doctors at the school-based clinics say, they won't give up without a fight. "We're advocating for [the students], and I'm going to advocate for them until I can't," says Freeman. Freeman has a meeting with OPH this Wednesday.

DHH says the situation is currently under investigation. They released this statement in response to the concerns about shutting down funding for those clinics:

"For the past two years, audits have indicated significant concerns about schools-based health centers in St. Helena Parish. As outlined in the letter sent to your TV station by the clinics' management, because of audit findings in 2009 - some of which were "egregious" - the school-based health centers were operating under a one-year provisional certification. After providing them a year and significant technical support, including personal visits by School-Based Health Center officials with the Office of Public Health, we conducted follow-up reviews and found that the centers still do not meet either the contract requirements or principles, standards and guidelines for operation of a school-based health center in Louisiana. These standards articulate quality performance measures that OPH requires all school-based health centers to meet to continue to operate in our state.

Because of what was found in our reviews and interactions with this school-based health center sponsor, we have now launched a full investigation, and it would be inappropriate to provide any more details at this time.

We are working with the local community to preserve continuity of services for children. And, we want to make it abundantly clear, that in no way was our decision to cancel this contract related to budget reductions or the state budget situation. This decision was made in light of the findings in our reviews of the clinics. Our concerns is about their ability to appropriately carry out the requirements of their contracts with us and ultimately, the safety of the children they serve."


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