GWINN - For the first time in more than 15 years, Gwinn high school and middle school students had immediate access to a school nurse on Oct. 1. On that day, the school district's grant-funded adolescent health center opened its doors.
The grant, offered through the Michigan Department of Education and the Michigan Department of Community Health, is renewable for five years and will provide $175,000 annually to purchase medical and office supplies and to pay staff.
"This begins a new chapter in public health for the Marquette County Health Department," Marquette County Health Director Fred Benzie said when the grant was received in May. "We feel we can have the biggest impact on our community's health by helping the students in the school."
Tina Bambach, family medical nurse practitioner, examines a student at the Gwinn Adolescent Health Center in the Gwinn High School on Monday. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Since the clinic opened, Benzie has said the response has been positive.
The school district is providing space for the clinic, which is located in the building that is shared by the middle school and high school, and the grant funds are being used to pay two family nurse practitioners and a social work health educator.
In addition to medical care, the health educator will play a teaching role in conjunction with the district's health classes. The FNPs, in turn, will work to further educate the Gwinn teaching staff.
Tina Bambach, a board certified FNP and one of the health center employees, said up to a dozen patients have come through the center doors each day this month.
"It's been very well received. We see patients every day. We see students and teachers," she said. "We see them for common illnesses, sore throats, ear things, upper respiratory things. But our big thing is immunizations."
Recently, the health center hosted a flu shot clinic, she said.
Bambach, who has been a registered nurse for a decade and just recently became an FNP, thinks the clinic, which is open to kids ages 10 and over, is critical.
"I think it's very important. I definitely see the need for it," she said. "We can do a lot of preventative care here."
Gwinn Area Community Schools was a good fit for the grant, according to Benzie, as many students in the district are limited in their access to consistent medical care, due to both monetary and geographic reasons.
The grant required the school being served have an immediate population of at least 500. When Gwinn's middle school and high school were combined, the number exceeded 500.
Basic clinic fees apply and insurance will be billed, if possible. But Benzie said the clinic will not turn any student away, regardless of their ability to pay.
He said the school must receive parental permission in order to treat a student more than once. The FNPs will treat kids for a number of ailments and will be able to conduct physicals, but part of the goal is to refer them to community physicians, according to Benzie.
"They will do an awful lot of referring," he said. "We want these kids to have a medical home that is an outside physician."
And while good health is an obvious goal of the clinic, it runs even deeper than that for Benzie.
"Good health promotes good learning and good learning promotes success," he said. "That's the bottom line."
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.