Work begins for school health center

WEIRTON – Staff with C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc. are working to prepare the school health center at Weirton Elementary School for the new school’s opening in August.

Shanna Earley, the physician’s assistant who will man the center, said there were several questions about the center during an open house held for the school in May, presenting an opportunity to explain its role.

Open throughout the school day, the center will offer checkups and dental service, including fluoride treatments and sealants, and treatment of such common maladies as strep throat, ear infections, rashes and lice.

There also are plans to employ a licensed counselor to provide counseling in such issues as attention deficit disorder, anxiety and grieving.

Earley, Dr. Kelli Fournier, the center’s supervising physician; and Rita Coyne, a member of its advisory board; said the center won’t supplant the role of the school nurse or a pupil’s family doctor and whether a child receives the center’s services will be up to his or her parent or guardian.

Coyne said the school nurse will continue to maintain immunization records for pupils and handle the various minor injuries, headaches and upset stomachs experienced by children.

And documentation of checkups can be shared with the child’s physician, Fournier said.

“We’re not here to supplant anybody. We’re here as a resource. If they (parents and guardians) choose to accept the services, that’s their prerogative,” Coyne said.

Earley said at the end of the last school year, pupils from the Weirton elementary schools that will merge as Weirton Elementary were given forms through which parents could give consent for their children to be treated by the center.

But if those forms were lost or misplaced, parents may download one from C.HA.N.G.E. Inc.’s website at or acquire one at the beginning of the school year.

Fournier and Earley didn’t know how many parents have given consent thus far but noted the school is expected to serve about 978 children.

Fournier said some may be surprised to hear 66 percent of the children are in families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. She said as a result of a declining local economy no longer supported by area steel mills, a growing number of families don’t have access to health care.

Judy Raveaux, executive director of C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc., said 40 percent of children in Hancock County don’t have a primary physician and 40 percent don’t have a dentist due to lack of insurance or transportation.

And those are the children the center hopes to serve, she said.

For several years the Weirton-based community action agency has treated uninsured and underinsured residents through its Family Medical Care Community Health Center. And as with that facility, the school health center’s patients may include those who can afford to pay and those who can not.

Those with health coverage may be billed through their insurance, while those without may qualify for a discounted rate, and no child will be denied service because of inability to pay, Raveaux said.

While the center’s rooms were built through the $37 million bond issue that funded the new school’s construction and other projects, the center’s staff, equipment and supplies are being paid from other sources.

C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc. has been awarded a $366,000 grant from the federal Health Resource Service Agency and other grants from the J.C. Williams Center and Sisters of St. Joseph’s for the center.

And while the agency has entered into a legal agreement with the Hancock County school board to use the rooms, it involves no money, Coyne said.

Earley said through newsletters and visits to classrooms, she also will attempt to educate children about good nutrition, exercise and other factors of healthy lifestyles. Fournier added the school’s staff will be encouraged to suggest topics that may be covered.

Fournier said the facility will be the first of its kind in the Northern Panhandle but school health centers are not new to the U.S or the state. There are more than 1,900 in the U.S. and 102 in West Virginia, she said.

Raveaux said members of the center’s advisory board have toured centers in Parkersburg and Morgantown and attended two state conferences to become more familiar with them.

Fournier and Earley hope parents will take time to learn more about the center and plan to open at least a week before the new school year to provide school-required immunizations on a daily basis.

Fournier also is chairman of the center’s advisory board. A Weirton native and graduate of Weirton Madonna High School, she is a graduate of the Marshall University medical school and completed her residency at Wheeling Hospital.

She has practiced medicine locally for the last 14 years, nine of them with C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc.

Earley also is a Weirton native and Madonna alumna. Since graduating from the medical school at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, she has worked in the medical field for 12 years, 11 of them in emergency care.

The mother of two children, ages 9 and 7, she said, “I love kids. I’ve always had a passion for working with them.”