With the dawn of a new school year, Henderson holds at least one pleasant surprise in store for many parents throughout the valley. It’s the Dr. Joel & Carol Bower School-Based Health Center, a free children’s clinic at Basic High School.
The center is a lifesaver for parents who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford or have easy access to critical services that keep their kids, ages 4 to 19, in school. Among those services are required pre-entry school immunizations, asthma management, sports physicals and primary care. Patients can come from anywhere in Las Vegas – and sometimes do.
On a recent morning, the clinic received a call for help from a harried mother, according to administrator Naira Bagumyan. After an approximate 10-minute wait at the center that day, a child received treatment for an escalating ear infection. It was a far cry from the half-day that might have been spent in an urgent care waiting room, let alone at an emergency room or on a doctor’s office waiting list.
"They walked out saying, ‘Wow. Thank you!’ " said Bagumyan, who regularly receives positive feedback from surprised parents.
Dr. Sherrilyn Coffman is director of the center and a Nevada State College founding faculty member, as well as interim dean of the college’s School of Nursing. She said some practitioners make a special effort to accommodate patients even younger than 4 — often the younger siblings of students. Practitioners also have stayed well after clinic hours, waiting for uninsured patients coming in from Las Vegas with nowhere else to go.
"As far as we know, we’re the only children’s clinic in Henderson that doesn’t charge," Coffman said. "And there are very few school-based health centers in the state of Nevada."
Visitors from Reno, she said, have even chosen the center as a role model for their own efforts to start a school-based health center.
Nevada State College’s partnership with the Clark County School District has kept the clinic afloat since 2004. St. Rose Dominican Hospitals has provided sponsorship and financial support for many of the center’s activities, including its asthma management program.
When it comes to asthma, the center puts a dent in one major cause of school absenteeism in the valley. It even provides uninsured and underinsured kids with free asthma inhalers, which can cost $200 per month, according to Coffman.
"Our asthma management program is big because asthma knocks a lot of kids out of school when it gets windy, when the weather changes," she said.
Although it won’t provide free medicine for children with good insurance, the clinic still provides free visits, except for the modestly priced $20 sports physical. Children with good insurance also have a convenient place to go when their parents can’t make the time to take them elsewhere. And, Basic High School students get help that the school nurse just can’t address. That includes the occasional Advil.
For kids, that can mean the difference between taking a half-hour nap and returning to class or going home for the day.
The clinic has had approximately 10,000 primary care visits since it opened, according to Coffman, and it’s stretching to accommodate a growing need. The number of uninsured children receiving services is on the rise, along with the number of asthma-related visits. Those visits have increased by approximately 300 every year since 2007.
But the center is accomplishing more than unclogging busy urgent care and emergency room waiting rooms. With the resurgence of diseases such as whooping cough and diphtheria, and the ever-changing guidelines for immunizations, the clinic is taking on public health issues.
"I need kids to get immunizations so they won’t give me their illness," Coffman explained.
She sees the center as an example of Nevada State College’s commitment to doing good work and community service. For Bagumyan, it’s about the feeling she gets at the end of the day.
"I love working with people," she said. "We really make the difference in their lives. Just watching them when they’re happy leaving, that’s what makes my day."
The clinic is at 400 N. Palo Verde Drive, Henderson. For more information, visit basichighschool.com/schoolbased_health_center.shtml or call 702-799-0508.