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MHS Health Center tackles issues of pregnancy, STDs
Shown in the MHS Teen Health Center are Vicky Utt (right), health coordinator for the Martinsville schools, and Beth Holyfield, the clinicâ€™s nurse. (Bulletin photo)
Sunday, August 30, 2009
By KAREN THOMPSON - Bulletin Staff Writer
Martinsville High School students can visit the school's new Teen Health Center to have a sprained ankle examined, pick up a pamphlet on managing stress or be tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy.
At first glance, the family planning services may seem out of place with the other tasks of the clinic, such as counseling, first aid and hearing and vision screenings. But city school Superintendent Scott Kizner and Vicky Utt, health coordinator for Martinsville schools, see the need for these services, such as pregnancy tests, STD tests and access to contraceptives, at MHS.
"You can't hide from the facts. ... We have many young women having babies. We don't want that trend to continue," Kizner said, adding that teen pregnancy and STD rates are an "on-going and long-term problem" in the area.
Kizner and Utt said Martinsville High School has the second highest pregnancy rate in Virginia, and Utt said it has the highest STD rate in the state. They said about 15 to 30 girls at MHS become pregnant each year, with possibly more pregnancies the school is unaware of.
In March, the Martinsville Bulletin reported that the number of pregnancies among females between the ages of 10 and 19 in Martinsville in 2007, the latest year for which figures were available, was 70.2 per 1,000.
Utt said 1 in 4 teenagers throughout the United States has an STD. Martinsville High School, which has about 800 students, therefore could have as many as 200 teens with STDs, but Utt worries that number is higher.
Although family planning is not the clinic's sole focus, educating students about sex and sexual issues hopefully will curb the pregnancy and STD rates, Kizner and Utt said.
The Henry/Martinsville Health Department, one of several partners in the center, conducts the majority of the pregnancy-related services at the clinic, Utt said. The school's registered nurse, Beth Holyfield, can distribute condoms and pregnancy tests, but only the nurse practitioner, provided twice a month by the health department, can conduct pelvic exams and write prescriptions for contraceptives, according to Utt.
Students seeking a pregnancy or STD test have to schedule appointments.
MHS provides an exemption form for parents who do not want their children to participate in the family planning aspect of the clinic. The forms initially were given to students, and Kizner said additional forms were mailed home to parents on Friday. Students who are exempt still may receive other services of the clinic, he added.
All the services the clinic provides are free, Utt said. The health department supplies all materials at no charge to the school, and "we're not going to be billing or filing with Medicaid," she said.
Utt stressed that the services offered at the school's clinic are the same as those offered at the health department. Teens can visit the health department on their own and not go through the school.
However, she and Kizner said they feel there are benefits to having the services on campus. For instance, transportation can be a limitation, but with the health department's services offered on campus, teens have more access to them. Also, neither teens nor parents have to miss work or school to make a medical appointment, Utt said.
In accordance with state law, students receive confidentiality for the family planning services, Utt said, but not with other services. For example, if a student is suspected of having a broken wrist or difficulty hearing, parents will be informed, she said. However, students seeking pregnancy and STD testing will have confidentiality, just as they would if they had gone directly to the health department.
The center has other services as well, Utt said. Students may seek treatment for illnesses and injuries, or if they need a physical exam for sports eligibility. Hearing and vision screenings, which are required by state law for 10th-graders, will be offered. Counselors are available for a variety of mental health issues, and students can receive education about health and nutrition, another major issue in the area, Utt said.
The clinic has been in the works for two years, according to Kizner. He and others "have been studying the issue of teenage pregnancy in Martinsville," and they felt there was a need for the school's new clinic.
"The issue is one that people have been aware of for many years," he explained. "Martinsville has had a long history of having one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy."�
Kizner and staff visited Roanoke city schools to study their health centers, and he sought input from members and organizations in the community, particularly the religious community.
"We recognize that people have strong beliefs about the place of the school" when it comes to sex education, Kizner said. "We're going to give parents the option" to decline certain services.
Kizner also said the school will continue to offer its abstinence program and family planning class, which is optional to students.
Kizner said $30,000, which came mostly from state stimulus funds, was allotted for the center, but "we haven't been close to using" that amount. He said he felt about $6,000 has been spent so far, but Utt said the number was even lower, around $3,000. The health department brought most of the equipment, and no drugs are on the premises.
Reception to the clinic so far has been positive. Kizner said the school has received about 15 exemption forms. An open house for the clinic, held on Aug. 18, saw many visitors, students and parents alike, and Kizner said the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
Kizner and Utt stressed that the clinic does not seek to judge teens or push them to make certain directions, but rather to act as an outlet for youth to receive information in all areas of health.
"These kids are great kids," Kizner said, but "a lot of young people don't have objective information" and the clinic works to provide that. "If we help even a few students make a decision," then the center has been successful, he added.
"We want to be part of reducing the teen pregnancy rate," Utt emphasized.
"We just want (students) to be safe," said Holyfield, the clinic's R.N. "We want to get the disease rate down."�
Kizner said Saturday the center is seeing about 15 to 20 students a day. Most come for "primary care," such as first aid, but many have shown interest the family planning services as well, he said.
Students have also been interested in when the health department volunteers would be available at the clinic, Kizner said. Due to the interest, the school is working with the health department to have its representatives meet with students on Friday.
In the end, all services at the clinic strive toward education.
"These children are more than just a test score," Kizner said. "We have a responsibility" to educate them in every area of health, including dating, sex and STDs, he added.
In addition to the health department, several organizations in the area partnered to make the center possible, including For the Children, Piedmont Community Services, United Way and private physicians, according to Utt.