Alivio Medical Center at Little Village Lawndale High School
The health center at Little Village Lawndale High School in Chicago is a branch site of Alivio Medical Center, a federally qualified community health center. Alivio’s mission is to provide bilingual, bicultural, and comprehensive medical care to a largely ethnic, primarily Latino, population who lack income and health coverage and have limited access to mainstream medical care. Through the inspirational leadership of its executive director and with the support of nearby Mercy Hospital, Alivio Medical Center first opened its doors in 1989 and since then has established several branch sites, including a second clinic, a dental clinic, and two school-based health centers – of which the health center at Little Village Lawndale is one.
This school-based health center has been in operation since 2007. It exclusively serves students who attend the Little Village Lawndale High School, a population that is 70% Latino, predominantly Mexican, and 30% African American. All students are insured, the majority through an Illinois state program called All Kids. Additional funding for reproductive health services is supplied by the Title X Family Planning Program, and the state of Illinois also pays for essential immunizations through its program Vaccines for Children.
The health center’s main focus is on interdisciplinary primary care and prevention. With a staff of experienced nurses, a psychologist, and a medical assistant, the health center offers preventative care, sports physicals, mental health counseling, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, immunizations, and school-mandated child health examinations. All patients are required to fill out a Guidelines for Adolescent Prevention Survey (GAPS) questionnaire, and providers use the responses to tailor health education efforts and preventative care to each teen’s needs. For example, teens who report sexual activity are offered HIV testing and family planning services, including birth control. Those who appear at risk of a mental health condition or who are experiencing social or academic problems at school are seen by the center’s psychologist, who is available every school day. As providers of sensitive services, health center staff work aggressively to ensure the confidentiality of health information as well as their patients’ privacy. In addition, the bilingual abilities and cultural competency of health center staff ensure that students receive patient-centered care.
Health center staff have a particularly close relationship with the school administration. This permits them to collaborate with school faculty on the development of individualized plans for students in a way that addresses the adolescents’ health concerns as well as their overall wellbeing and success in school. It also allows them to serve as advocates for students, enabling them, for example, to intervene to educate school personnel about a mental health issue in order to avoid a harsh punishment or poor grade. In addition to providing clinical care and support for individual students, health center staff are also actively involved in offering health education as part of the school curriculum. Alivio Medical Center makes health educators available upon request, especially before prom night and other so-called “high-risk events.”
The health center at Little Village Lawndale only operates when the high school is open. Providers, however, often see their patients at other Alivio sites when school is closed, and they make appropriate referrals to specialists as necessary. Alivio Medical Center continues to expand and improve its programs, and plans are currently underway to establish another school-based health center at a nearby high school. The strong relationships among schools and their health centers allow for a uniquely coordinated approach to adolescent health care.
For more information, please visit http://www.aliviomedicalcenter.org/.