The nurses who travel to remote parts of Fresno County to care for students and their families now can spend less time checking on whether vaccine freezers are still working and more time providing healthcare.
The Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Health Services department has moved into a new space on Clovis Avenue just north of Highway 180 that includes offices for nurses and other staffers, a clinic, new freezers equipped with five-day generators in case of power outages, and huge bays to store the department’s two bus-sized mobile clinics.
Providing healthcare to rural students is critical to their education, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino told guests at an open house Friday at the new headquarters.
And the mobile clinics will serve mothers as well as their children, he said: “When we have healthy moms, when we have healthy babies, we have great outcomes for our children in our schools.”
Better Healthcare Through Partnerships
Alma McHenry, senior director of the Health Services department, credits a number of partnerships with the department’s growing ability to provide healthcare to residents in rural areas that lack medical providers.
Working a decade ago with the nonprofit School-Based Health Alliance, the Health Services department learned about funding assistance and purchased its first mobile unit that helped expand healthcare on the Valley’s west side, McHenry said.
For many residents in that part of the county, the closest clinic is 14 miles away and the closest emergency room is in Hanford, McHenry said. Parents must miss hours of work and children miss hours of school for medical appointments in the Fresno area, she said.
By bringing the mobile unit into the fields, students can get the vaccinations they need to attend school and COVID-19 vaccines as well as routine healthcare, she said.
Health Services learned in 2019 through its Kaiser partner of a grant to pay for a second mobile unit. The unit was supposed to arrive in 2020 but was delayed by the pandemic and was delivered only recently, she said.
Later Friday, Kaiser Permanente spokesman Jordan Scott provided some additional information about Kaiser’s support of Health Services: “As part of Kaiser Permanente’s effort to help increase access to comprehensive health services in underserved communities, we provided a $464,400 grant to FCSS in 2019 to cover the full cost of the new mobile health unit, health supplies and assessment equipment.
“Additionally, there was mention of an additional grant to help expand access to COVID-19 vaccines and information. This was a $95,000 grant issued to FCSS Health Services earlier this year which has helped to provide COVID outreach and education and support numerous vaccination clinics at school sites in more rural areas.”
McHenry said another partner, Anthem Blue Cross, gave Health Services the opportunity to purchase “pharmacy-grade” freezers with backup generators to replace the ones that were housed in downtown offices and had to be checked twice daily by nurses to make sure the proper temperatures were maintained.
Rebecca Vang, a licensed vocational nurse, said having the staff and the freezers at the same site will allow staff to work much more efficiently. Previously, the staff worked out of a building at the CTEC High School north of downtown and had to make trips downtown to check the freezer temperatures, she said.
And the second mobile unit will enable the department to double the number of teams sent out to rural areas, said Maria Landeros, who also is a licensed vocational nurse.
Each of the mobile units includes several examination rooms with sinks and the tools healthcare workers need, such as blood pressure cuffs. The department also conducts clinics outdoors, staffers said.
Health Services’ list of partnerships also includes Valley Children’s Healthcare, which provides pediatric residents to accompany nurse practitioners and other staffers in the mobile units, McHenry said.
For some youngsters, the mobile unit’s visit may be their first-ever encounter with a doctor, she said.
It’s clear from a perusal of the Health Services’ storeroom that the staffers are prepared to reward children after their vaccinations: A big bag of lollipops is stashed away on one shelf.