With the range of physical, psychological, and sociological issues facing adolescents today, students at Cape Henlopen, Sussex Central, and Indian River high schools reap great benefits from on-site Wellness Centers, supported by the Delaware Department of Public Health, Beebe Healthcare, and the Cape Henlopen and Indian River school districts. The Wellness Centers pick up where the school nurse leaves off, to make sure local teens have access to the healthcare they need.
While the school nurse is still the first line of defense for day-to-day events—minor illnesses and injuries, and dispensing student medications—Wellness Centers take the longer view, providing free health education, nutritional help, emotional support, and, when appropriate, referrals to students' personal physicians for follow-up care. Staffs at Wellness Centers include nurse practitioners, physician assistants, licensed social workers, athletic trainers, and registered dietitians. Community physicians serve as medical directors. The centers make sure that busy teens with even busier parents don't experience a healthcare gap.
The Wellness Centers focus on prevention and promoting positive physical and mental health that will carry adolescents through adulthood.
Parental consent is a cornerstone of Wellness Center treatment, which is provided free of charge. Parents must grant permission to allow their child to access services. Services the Wellness Centers provide include:
- Routine physical examinations
- Sports or employment physicals
- Treatment of minor illness and injury
- Prescriptions for routine medications
- Family physician follow-up Identification and referral for treatment of high-risk conditions
- Mental health counseling
- Educational programs on stress reduction, anger management, nutrition, and more
- Peer mentoring
The centers generally provide the same services; however, they develop a specific menu of services with community needs in mind. And what's "hot" at any of the centers tends to change with the seasons: allergy relief for spring, bronchitis and strep throat in winter, sports physicals in summer. Students are invited to discuss any issue in complete confidentiality. The centers apply for grant funding to run additional programs. All three centers coordinate an educational and peer-mentoring group called "Wise Guys," a male sexual responsibility program.
The centers also focus on a range of health issues and offer lunchtime seminars and programs on topics such as:
- Alcohol abuse—the most common health problem among teens
- Healthy eating and obesity, fueled by sedentary lifestyles and fast-food habits (the centers now see more kids with diabetes and are kicking off an obesity awareness and prevention program)
- Depression and stress from jobs, academic pressure, and socioeconomic factors
While some students are referred to Wellness Centers by the school nurse, guidance counselor, or concerned parents, many find their own way there. Each center has attracted over 85 percent of the student body, receiving thousands of visits annually.
Wellness Centers are clearly the prescription for modern times. Working parents can no longer respond immediately to a school nurse's call, nor can they always find time and transportation when unplanned acute illnesses or injuries occur during the school day. Moreover, many families are underinsured. Wellness Centers provide a critical, convenient safety net that is welcomed by both students and parents.