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Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation School Health Initiative

Neosha has had diabetes since she was nine years old and has missed a lot of school over the years because she couldn’t manage her blood sugar. But at her school clinic, she’s able to check her blood sugar twice a day and get insulin immediately. “Honestly, I think I’d be dead,” she says. “I knew what I was supposed to do, but I really wasn’t doing it. They help put me on task to do the things I needed to do.”

Jean has hemophilia A. Without health insurance, he couldn’t go to the doctor to monitor his condition, and when he did, he would miss an entire day of school. Now, at his school clinic he can have his blood checked between classes.

Ashley is a good student who has been wrestling with a major tragedy in her life: “My mother was killed last year, and they’ve really helped me with my grief. Some days, I just don’t think I can cope, and Ms. Kitchen helps me get through it all.”

Those are among the health issues being addressed for more than 15,000 students at nine Miami-Dade public schools, thanks to the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation School Health initiative established in 2000 in conjunction with the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine to provide comprehensive, primary health care, and mental health counseling to school children in Miami-Dade County. 

By focusing on the whole child through risk assessment, prevention, wellness, and early diagnosis and treatment, the program’s multidisciplinary teams have created a model program for other communities to follow.

The School Health Initiative includes five North Miami Beach feeder pattern schools: North Miami Beach Senior High, John F. Kennedy Middle, Fulford, Greynolds Park, and Gertrude Edelman/Sabal Palm elementary schools as well as three schools in the North Miami feeder pattern: North Miami Senior High, North Miami Middle, and Arch Creek Elementary in North Miami. Booker T. Washington Senior High in Overtown is the ninth school in the program.

Students in School Health Initiative had fewer absences caused by asthma, missed fewer days of school overall, and had vaccination rates exceeding the state goal of 98 percent of all children and the Miami-Dade County average rates of fewer than 90 percent of kindergarteners and fewer than 83 percent of seventh graders. Not only does the School Health Initiative keep children healthy and in  but it also helps expose the next generation of healthcare professionals to community health issues. Medical students and residents, nursing and social work students rotating through the program are seeing first hand how school health programs can improve healthcare access in the 21st century.

This innovative program has become a national model, thanks to significant nationwide attention and federal funding:

  • A $4 million Health Care Innovation Award from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, announced in 2012—the only such award in Florida and the only award for school-based clinics in the nation—adds dental and mental health and extends services to the students’ families.
  • A $454,500 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the US Department of Health and Human Services has provided resources to develop electronic medical records and for telehealth equipment to allow physicians to diagnose students from afar, reducing costs and absences from school.

The Miami-Dade Children’s Trust, Batchelor Foundation, Health Foundation of South Florida, and other major funders will help sustain the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation School Health Initiative for years to come.

Most importantly, Neosha, Jean, and Ashley—like thousands of other students—can stay in school and become a neonatal nurse, restaurant owner, and a psychologist…dreams that would not have been possible without the Dr. John T. Macdonald School Health Initiative.