Gina Smith, FNP
TROY – There was a time in the not too distant past when parents generally expected that their children would come down with any number of childhood diseases – measles, mumps, chickenpox and the like. But that was before the development of specific vaccines to guard against those ailments.
While effective vaccines now exist for each of these and many other communicable diseases, not all families have the money to pay for them. Still others often find it difficult to take time off from work to get their children to the appropriate medical appointments.
The FirstHealth Montgomery County School Health Centers at East and West Middle schools offer all of the immunizations required and recommended by the state of North Carolina to students whose parents have provided the necessary signed consent. Recent funding from the FirstHealth Montgomery Foundation has helped defray the cost.
“Immunizing our children is the best way to keep them healthy and well from serious, sometimes fatal, diseases,” says Gina Smith, FNP, the family nurse practitioner who manages the FirstHealth Montgomery School Health Centers program.
“By parents giving us permission to give their child vaccines, we eliminate barriers such as access to care, transportation and other financial concerns. We have a very strong, well-organized immunization program, and we are grateful for the collaboration of the Montgomery County Schools, which facilitates getting these children immunized. We are also very grateful to the FirstHealth Montgomery Foundation for its contributions and support of all of our efforts to help keep students healthy and well.”
Almost $10,800 of the $35,000 from the recent FirstHealth Montgomery Foundation disbursement helped offset non-reimbursed costs related to vaccines administered to Montgomery County students during the 2015-2016 school year. Another 1,200 vaccines have been administered to students since the beginning of the current school year.
According to Smith, the FirstHealth Montgomery School Health Centers program gets free vaccine for children who are uninsured or have Medicaid coverage from the state’s Vaccines for Children program, but has to purchase vaccine for children who are insured or are covered by NC Health Choice. While there is reimbursement for children who are insured (only about 25 percent of the total number), the amount doesn’t cover the administrative cost associated with the vaccine program.
State law requires children to be vaccinated against diphtheria, Hepatitis B, Hib disease, measles, meningitis, mumps, pertussis (whopping cough), pneumonia, polio, rubella, tetanus and chickenpox. The CDC also recommends that children be vaccinated against Hepatitis A, influenza, rotavirus and HPV (human papillomavirus) although North Carolina does not require these immunizations.
“Giving vaccines is very labor intensive,” says Smith. “It only takes about two minutes to prepare and give one vaccine, but the nurses and certified medical assistants spend hours upon hours going through the immunization consents and checking the NC Immunization Registry to see what vaccines are due for each child for whom we have consent. Then we have to order vaccines, give them and then document the immunizations in our electronic medical record as well as in the N.C. Immunization Registry.”
Education is also an important part of the immunization process, according to Smith, since many parents think their children won’t need vaccines once they reach middle school. However, she points out, state law now requires that students entering the seventh grade or are 12 years old (whichever comes first) also get Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) boosters and be immunized against Meningococcal disease (meningitis).
According to Foundation Board Chair Jim Bulthuis, providing funding for the School Health Centers’ immunization program is just one of the ways in which the FirstHealth Montgomery Foundation upholds its commitment to the health of Montgomery County children. Another involves funding assistance for the construction of walking trails on elementary school campuses, a component of the multi-focused Daily Mile exercise program.
“For several years, the Foundation has earmarked funding for the health needs of Montgomery County school children,” Bulthuis says. “We need to use those funds as specific needs arise for the benefit of our children.”