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Schools get help keeping students healthy

April 2, 2012
 Cherry Hill is one of Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods, where obesity, diabetes, asthma and poor nutrition are common childhood health concerns.

MedStar Health’s Harbor Hospital says it doesn’t have to be that way. The hospital is helping four Cherry Hill elementary schools improve their students’ health through an education initiative called “Healthy Schools Healthy Families.”

One of the hospital’s registered nurses acts as a “health resources” coordinator and oversees health activities for some 1,400 school children. At each school, she assembles a team of parents, staff and school nurses to identify specific health needs, and then develop programs and activities to address those concerns. It could be about promoting better hand hygiene, managing diabetes or encouraging healthier eating habits.

“If we can educate the kids about obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and those things that are preventable and also educate their parents and the teachers and the staff at the school, then we can make a difference,” said Harbor Hospital President Dennis Pullin.

After
becoming the hospital’s president in 2009, Pullin met with school officials and community leaders to better understand how it could address Cherry Hill’s concerns.

“One of the things that kept coming up was access to health resources,” he says. “So we felt the best thing to do was to go exactly where the need was the most and that was in the schools.”

With a $50,000 contribution from Bank of America, the hospital launched the program in September. Calvert Moore, the R.N.

who oversees the health activities, says students, parents and school staff have bought into the program. She believes the fact that she hails from the same neighborhood helped ease her way. “There was initial standoffishness, but we’ve built up a strong level of trust in one another,” she says.

“The kids know I care about them and the parents do too. We’re one big happy family.”

Moore coordinates a variety of programs that range from improving hand hygiene to counseling young girls who suffer from low self-esteem and are stressed over peer pressure and bullying. She has held anger management classes and educated kids about the danger of bulimia and the benefit of healthier eating and keeping fit. One school has started a running
club. Another has applied for a grant to support a student-run garden.

Moore also promotes healthy activities and wellness programs for parents, partners with local agencies and organizations to connect children and their families to available community resources, and generally serves as a liaison between the hospital and the neighborhood.

“When I see that ‘aha’ moment from the kids … when they get it and I know I’m having an impact, that is the most rewarding part of what I do,” she says. “That’s when I know we can make a difference in their lives.”

School administrators are strong supporters. “The initiative has been a positive addition to what we are able to offer our kids,” says Matthew Carpenter, principal of Arundel Elementary/ Middle School, one of the participating schools. “Our school nurse professionals and teachers alike feel the program has been a beneficial addition … and we look forward to a continued partnership.”

Pullin says the program is about working in disadvantaged areas to “nurture a healthier society,” neighborhood by neighborhood. “It’s easy for some to say, ‘I’ll just wait until I’m sick enough to go to the emergency department because I know I’ll get care there’ … and it is that mentality, too, that the program seeks to change.” He adds: “It is important not to wait for patients to present at our doors to take care of them. We have an opportunity to make a difference outside our four walls.”