Knoxville –Where do Knox County students and their parents go for health care when there seems to be nowhere else to turn?
The 15-year-old whose advanced acne is scarring her self-esteem? The frustrated parents of a 13-year-old whose fascination with street drugs threatens to become an addiction? Or the out-of-work dad whose 16-year-old has developed an eye infection that keeps him out of class?
They go to Vine Middle Magnet School Health Center, a partnership among the UT College of Nursing, the Knox County Schools, and the Knox County Department of Health.
The Knox County School District provides 39 nurses for its 52,000 students in 85 schools. But the Vine Health Center is one of a kind. “Nurse practitioners, nursing aides, and nursing students provide comprehensive health services,” says Dr. Nan Gaylord, UT nursing professor and coordinator of the Health Center.
Immunizations, minor trauma, asthma, head lice, throat cultures, cold remedies, and routine physicals are common student and parent concerns. Advocacy issues, such as getting TennCare coverage, frequently come up. But wellness is a central focus at the Health Center. “A lot of what we want to do is teach people how to take good care of themselves,” Gaylord says. “We educate the students about the importance of exercise and nutrition.”
The Center takes referrals from other schools when necessary.
The Vine Middle Magnet School location was selected because the need was great, and the neighboring elementary and high schools could benefit from the centrally-located services, says Gaylord. The Health Center began providing services in 1995 in a cramped teacher lounge in the main Vine Middle building. On February 16, 2000, the community celebrated the grand opening of a newly renovated space in the Langland Annex Building located behind the building.
The building once housed the school’s vocational-technical automobile bays-the metal, commercial-sized garage doors still are lowered in the evening. But now the space features a reception area, four exam rooms, an in-take center, office, and a small eating area.
During the first year of operation, the nursing staff provided services in more than 2600 encounters with students, says Gaylord. The numbers grew every year, so the need for more spacious surroundings became apparent.
Gaylord’s aggressive fundraising and grant writing raised money, including equipment donations, for the renovation. The new space made possible a key ingredient in good health care-privacy, which, says Gaylord, was limited in the former set-up. The separate exam room arrangement of the new Center, as well designed as any physician’s office setting, allows students and care providers confidentiality, which is so important to proper care, she says. The additional space also improves the atmosphere for teaching UT College of Nursing students.
The new setting, complete with floor tiles in a spirited, yet subdued, rendition of the school’s purple and gold colors, was renovated with funding from the Lucille S. Thompson Family Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Cornerstone Foundation, and other donors who contributed close to $70,000.
Other contributions came from the East Tennessee Lion’s Club, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and Associates, the Cokesbury United Methodist Church, Keefer Builders, UT Hospital, the Community Partnership Center, and Knoxville’s Promise: The Alliance for Youth, as well as from a UT Technology Grant.
“The Health Center provides an on-going commitment to the school-s students, not just a one shot deal,” says Gaylord. “We are part of the environment.”
This fall, with federal funding from the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, a family strengthening program became part of the clinic’s offerings. The program’s work is to explore methods for developing parenting skills. Dr. Phyllis du Mont, UT nursing professor, heads the effort. The goal of the two-year program is to improve communication between parents and their children.
Gaylord, who also is director of UT’s pediatric nurse practitioner program, requires her graduate nursing students to serve one full year at the clinic. They do the screenings, examinations, and interventions under UT faculty supervision.
“As university faculty, we are role models for the nursing students. We’re not just teaching the ideal, but we’re saying ‘this is what needs to happen’ here, and we make sure it happens.” There’s an immediate connection between knowledge and practice at the Center, Gaylord says.
“The nursing students are able to take what we talk about in UT classrooms and apply it to the real world. It’s a mentor-student relationship, an ideal way to learn,” she says.
The Center’s next goals are to obtain more staffing, a part-time nurse practitioner, perhaps, and to increase the numbers of UT nursing students involved, says Gaylord. For now, the patchwork of funding, staffing, and community support instrumental to the clinic’s birth and growth has created a model for cooperative public ventures: service, training, and new knowledge.