GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Free or reduced cost health clinics at the Grand Rapids Public Schools get little use in June and July, 24 Hour News 8 has learned. Officials there blame school being out for the summer and parents not knowing services are available.
The clinics said they're doing everything they can to increase use. They are going to be at the district's summer park party and they're also planning a robocall campaign to raise awareness about the services. They told 24 Hour News 8 there's no problem getting kids in the door during the year, but ever since the first clinic opened at Union High School in 1999, the summer months have simply been slow.
24 Hour News 8 looked into it and found the numbers seem to show how busy the clinic is the rest of the year. According to information from the Michigan Department of Community Health from 2010 -- the most recent data available -- the district's three clinics saw nearly 1,800 visits that year.
Creston served 519 people and provided 2,018 services. Ottawa Hills High School served 566 people and provided 2,625 services, while Union High School saw 695 people and provided 2,990 services.
The employees of the clinic would love to see the waiting room packed with GRPS students, as would the district.
"It's a little sad," said Physician's Assistant Shauna Wishka. "I know there's a lot of kids out there who could use our resources, so we just love to be able to see our kids and help them and give them the medical care that they need."
When Wishka, the person that will usually see the clinic's patients, was asked why the clinic should even stay open during the slow months, she replied that a teen had come in the previous week for a test, "and we were able to help her, so it's important to be here."
It's not just a moral obligation. 24 Hour News 8 was told by GRPS leaders that it's also required as a part of a multimillion dollar grant from the Michigan Department of Community Health.
The district's three clinics get about $175,000 per year per clinic as a part of a five-year, $2.6 million grant, but in order to keep that money they need to stay open all year round.
24 Hour News 8 contacted the MDCH Thursday. A spokesperson there said she couldn't quickly find the answers to questions about numbers and why the clinics had to stay open during the summer, but would reply when she did.
The employees at the clinic stress they can help a lot of kids, especially in the slow months, if the students would just show up.
"A lot of the students that we see are uninsured, under insured, don't have their own doctor," said Karry Gaston, the person who makes the clinic appointments. "So yeah, it's great to be able to come here especially for the kids that are uninsured because they don't have to pay anything. At the hospital, you're going to get that bill."
But everyone seems to agree that when kids are out of school, the clinics are out of sight and out of mind.
Officials said parents might not know the resources are available or might erroneously think they need insurance for their kids to get care.
24 Hour News 8 checked in with a doctor at Spectrum Health who has studied emergency room visits and why people may go to the emergency room when a clinic or a doctor's office would better solve the medical problem.
"Most kids in summer aren't exactly happy to go to school in the summer, even if it's to see the doctor," said Dr. R. Corey Waller, the Director of Spectrum Health's Center for Integrative Medicine. "And a lot of kids aren't happy to see the doctor, so if you put the doctor in the school it's a double whammy."
Waller described the GRPS clinics "great" and "a wonderful idea," but he did acknowledge they are underused in the summer months.
"Despite being free and available and well equipped and knowledgeable, they're not being utilized," said Waller. "For some it's timing, for some it's perception as well."
The perception, Waller went on to say,is that it may be difficult to get a timely appointment with a doctor, and it's easier to go to a place like an emergency room. In actuality, a clinic or doctor's office would likely do the job better.
"This is a USA phenomenon in terms of 'we want it. We want it right now and we want something for what we paid for,'" said Waller.
But he said the fact is that patients will be better served not in an emergency room -- not because of the quality of care at the emergency room, but the fact that ER doctors just don't have all the puzzle pieces a primary care doctor would have.
"Patients should really understand that people who give you the best care are the people who know them and the people that know you are in the primary care centers," said Waller.
He is hopeful for the future, that when the Affordable Care Act goes into effect, some provisions may make it easier and more practical to get a primary care physician.
GRPS Health Clinics can do sports physicals and can treat other ailments that would normally be seen in
a doctors office. All Health Center's are open this summer from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. (closed for lunch from noon to 12:30 p.m.), Monday through Thursday.
To make an appointment:
Creston High School Clinic: 616.776-5120
Ottawa Hills High School Clinic: 616.776.5110
Union High School Clinic: 616.791.6593
GRPS Health Centers
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