Public health implementing program to increase youth access to health care

·3 min read

GREY-BRUCE – Chimere Okoronkwo, senior public health manager, made a presentation during the Aug. 26 board of health meeting on the school health team and programs, including two new programs scheduled to begin this fall.

The team consists of six public health nurses, one program assistant and one health promoter. The team supports 49 Bluewater District School Board schools, 13 Grey Bruce Catholic District School Board schools, one French Catholic school, one First Nations school and several private schools including those serving the Mennonite and Anabaptist communities.

In addition to its own programs, the team provides curriculum support within the schools, for example, in physical education and health courses.

Programs include the Youth Mental Health and Addiction Champion project – a peer-based program that utilizes youth to engage their peers in activities to promote mental health – and the Roots of Empathy program.

The new programs the team hopes to roll out this fall are school-based health clinics, and vision screening.

The goal of the clinics is to increase youth access to health education and services, focusing on such topics as mental health and well-being, tobacco and vaping cessation, and healthy relationships. The clinics will also provide harm reduction supplies including condoms, pregnancy tests and Naloxone kits. One key service of the clinics is health system navigation and referrals.

Okoronkwo said the hope is to have a public health nurse in each high school one day a week. There are 12-15 high schools. Each nurse will have on average two schools.

Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health, noted other public health nurses with the health unit could be redeployed if necessary.

Among the intermediate goals of the clinics is the reduction in sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections, and reduction in the rate of unplanned adolescent pregnancies.

The team hopes to launch the clinic program in October, and the other new program – Vision Screening – in November.

The screening will be offered to senior kindergarten students. Many children do not receive regular eye examinations from an optometrist. The hope is to identify any impairments.

In later discussion, Okoronkwo explained the vision screening pilot program began prior to the COVID pandemic. During the pandemic, everything was put on hold. What is planned is restarting the program.

“We are partnering with the Lions Club, District A19, to implement this program,” he said.

The way it will work is the health unit will do the pre-screening and post-screening work, while the Lions Club volunteers will do the actual screening.

There was considerable interest among board members on the youth mental health program. Okoronkwo explained that public health works with school mental health people to identify youth leaders who can speak to their peers “in their own language” through participation in various activities. The youth leaders are screened by the schools and team, and receive training.

“These programs have been successful in reaching students,” he said, and offered to provide more detailed information at a later date.

There was also discussion on the Roots of Empathy program, which involves mothers bringing infants into schools.

In other news

Dr. Ian Arra noted there is a minor and completely predicted increase in COVID-19 locally, including the BA.5 variant.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has announced that the province will provide approximately $47 million in 2023 to public health units and municipalities to ensure financial stability to deliver key services across the province. There will be continued increased investments to support the public health sector’s response to COVID-19 in 2023.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times