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School clinic first in state to treat all

July 02, 2007

Saturday, June 30, 2007
By Jacqueline Reis
(c) Telegram & Gazette

WORCESTER - The state's first school health center that will serve community residents of all ages will be open in August, but the people who made it happen gathered yesterday for a ribbon cutting.

The Helen A. Bowditch Health Center at Elm Park Community School will serve students during the day and community members from 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. A separate exterior door leads into the small clinic, which can be completely closed off from the rest of the school. The facility will be operated by Family Health Center of Worcester, which also oversees school health centers at Claremont and Woodland academies (formerly the Accelerated Learning Laboratory), Dr. Arthur F. Sullivan Middle School, the Goddard School of Science and Technology University Park Campus School, and South High Community School.

Elm Park Principal Ruthann R. Melancon said the clinic has been a dream of hers for eight years and one which the community needs: "We have students, we have families who have been looking forward to this," she said.

Family Health Center's school health centers are open to all regardless of ability to pay. Family Health Center will bill insurance companies, help people connect with assistance, and, if patients are not eligible for assistance, bill them on a sliding scale, said President and CEO Frances M. Anthes.

Ninety percent of Elm Park's students are from low-income families, according to the state department of education, and a survey done while the clinic was being planned found that more than half the school's parents would use the clinic for their entire family.

"We have to educate the whole child, and we have to work with the families," said Superintendent James A. Caradonio, who noted that the clinic's opening is good news at a time whent he school district, fresh off a tough budget process, badly needs it.

School money was not used for the center. It is the product of collaboration between Family Health Center, the Hoche-Scofield Foundation, the Fairlawn Foundation of the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, Becker College, the Bowditch Family, the East Highland Area Neighborhood Association, Fallon Community Health Plan, The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, the Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center, Worcester Common Ground, the city and the schools.

Sally Bowditch, one of Helen Bowditch's five children, said her mother would be honored. "She would love what it is we're bringing to the community," Ms. Bowditch said. Her mother died in 2004.

School Committee member Joseph C. O'Brien, one of the people who hatched the idea for the center, said it should serve as a model for the 84 school health centers in the state that could also serve the community at large. "In a sense, you could have 84 more health centers running," he said. He noted that the center, with its extended hours, will be more convenient for working families than doctors' offices, which often are open only during the day.

Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray, who helped create the center while he was Worcester major and chairman of the School Committee, said community schools such as Elm Park "epitomize what we want to create in our schools today." The city's 10 community schools stay open extended hours for programs for youths and adults.

"When this building is open, it changes the whole neighborhood," said Mary S. Keefe, director of the Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center.