While the future of a nonprofit health clinic operating in two east bank Iberville Parish schools remains unclear, the president of the clinic’s board of directors says a community group she’s also a part of has reactivated and is gathering signatures on a petition urging the School Board to retain its ties with the St. Gabriel Health Clinic.
Hazel Schexnayder says Neighbors Assisting Neighbors believes leaders with the Iberville Parish School System aren’t putting the health needs first for the children living on the east bank.
“We have been in the schools for over 10 years and have never had complaints of this level from the board administration,” said Schexnayder, president of the St. Gabriel Health Clinic Board of Directors.
The St. Gabriel Health Clinic, which has served the health care needs of underprivileged East Iberville residents for more than 20 years, was hit recently with a shower of criticism after School Board members pressured the administration to revisit the memorandum of understanding that welcomed the clinic into East Iberville School a decade ago and then later to the Math, Science and Arts Academy-East campus.
Board members’ requests were driven by several complaints from parents about students being pulled from core classes by clinic nurses for medical exams, billing parents’ insurance companies without proper consent prior to treatment and attempting to treat students without parental consent forms on file.
Assistant District Attorney Scott Stassi, who is representing the school system in its negotiations with the clinic, told the board last week that a majority of the complaints were from MSA-East parents.
The school district’s current memorandum of understanding with the health clinic, signed in 2009, is a one-page document binding the district to provide free space on the east bank campuses and to maintain the clinics’ infrastructure needs.
In return, St. Gabriel Health Clinic has to provide a physician or nurse practitioner to work in collaboration with school staff.
The arrangement gives east bank students more comprehensive school-based health care compared to students attending west bank schools, which have only school nurses with limited resources.
Schexnayder, also a former School Board member, said, “We have to follow state and federal guidelines. If not, we wouldn’t still be in business for the past 20 years.”
Victor Kirk, the clinic’s chief executive officer, has previously said the complaints had no merit and that the school system in the past hasn’t been eager to work out any issues the clinic has sought to address.
And now St. Gabriel Mayor Lionel Johnson also is weighing in after a recent meeting with Kirk.
Johnson said Kirk gave him a clear explanation about how the insurance billing process works. And the mayor is now wondering why the school system is not sharing the same information with parents instead of getting lawyers involved about a matter he feels could have an adverse effect on the community if officials can’t reach a compromise.
“To lose the clinics in our schools I think would have a devastating impact on the health care needs of our students, particularly those for which it is the main health care services they receive,” Johnson said in an email. “The health clinic is the only medical facility in the city limits open to the public and services many of our indigent residents.”
The school district is asking St. Gabriel Health to obtain annual parental consent forms and provide a copy of them to the administration no later than Sept. 1.
Other proposed changes to the 2009 agreement involve health clinic representatives and school administrators devising a treatment schedule that doesn’t interrupt students’ instructional time, and requiring the clinic to notify parents about all health-related issues with students. The clinic would further be mandated to check immunization records for all students; perform vision, hearing and scoliosis screenings; and provide proof that the clinic’s employees are trained to perform all noncomplex health procedures.
Stassi said he’s now working on a draft he intends to present to Kirk and the clinic board as early as next week.
“The school system is going to put up an offer for the clinic to continue to offer services,” Stassi said. “If the clinic wants to agree to those conditions, then we may be able to work something out. If not, the school system may have to look for nurses to put at those schools.”
School Superintendent Ed Cancienne said that after meeting with Kirk he is optimistic of a positive outcome.
“We had a conference with Kirk and his attorney and I thought we made a lot of headway,” Cancienne said.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.