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Elizabeth Hawkins-Walsh

How Can School Clinics Support At-Risk Children?

For two decades, Elizabeth Hawkins-Walsh has directed a Catholic University partnership with Maryland’s Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Medical Health Systems, and Holy Cross Health to deliver needed primary health care services through school-based clinics.

“When the clinics began, few pediatricians in the area accepted Medicaid and the schools were experiencing an influx of children with little or no access to health care. There are now clinics in 13 elementary schools and four high school health and wellness centers in the county.”

Why are schools a good place for primary health care?

“Nurse practitioners, in partnership with teachers and staff, have the opportunity to impact many social and emotional factors affecting health. Our nurse practitioners in the school-based clinics are also clinical University faculty. They have instituted innovative, high-interest programs for at-risk children including breakfast programs, which reduce absenteeism; nutrition and cooking classes given in Spanish; and noontime programs on mindfulness and other strategies to improve well-being.”

Why was Catholic University positioned to take the lead?

“We created one of the first pediatric nurse practitioner programs in the country, and were awarded a large Health Resources and Services Administration grant to bring best practices to educating pediatric nurse practitioners to work within the school communities. This positioned us well to respond to Montgomery County’s new initiatives in school-based health care. The school-based clinics serve as practice sites for University nurse practitioner students.”

What are the outcomes?

“School-based health centers have been shown to improve attendance, reduce local emergency department visits, and improve immunization rates. Parents report less time lost from work.”

Elizabeth Hawkins-Walsh is a certified nurse practitioner, professor of practice, and associate dean for master’s programs and community outreach in the Conway School of Nursing. She has been at the forefront of driving innovations to bring accessible health care to at-risk and uninsured children.