Free kids’ medical clinic at two Vallejo schools
by Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
One of the best-kept secrets in Vallejo has been leaking, and Kathleen Hahn couldn’t be happier about it.
Hahn is the nurse practitioner at Vallejo City Unified School District Health Centers’ Free Pediatric Clinics next to Elsa Widenmann and Pennycook Elementary Schools. They are Solano County’s only school-based health centers, where children who are not insured or under-insured, Medicaid/Medi-Cal or Child Health & Disability Prevention recipients or American Indian or Alaskan Natives can get free vaccines and other medical services, Hahn said.
The Times-Herald caught up with Hahn at the 8-year-old Widenmann clinic, on a recent, especially busy Thursday. The Pennycook clinic opened in 2004, she said.
“We see kids age 1 to 18 — who are Vallejo residents,” she said. “We see eight to 10 kids per day, four days per week. We’re a safety net — part of the wrap-around services offered through the school district. We see kids who don’t have insurance.”
The clinic also offers dental services, provided by La Clinica, as well as physicals, minor illness or injury treatment, vision and hearing screenings and help enrolling in no-to-low-cost health insurance, Hahn said.
“School nurses refer kids to us when they have medical problems but no insurance,” she said. “This is one of the good things about the Vallejo school district — they really care about their students and families and provide much-needed services without cost.”
All clinic patients are low-income, based on a form they fill out, Hahn said.
Funds come in part from federal programs like the Children’s Health & Disability Prevention Program and the Vaccines For Children program.
Hahn is not in the safety net health care business alone; Vallejo’s osteopathic medical school is on board, as well, she said.
“We have a wonderful partnership with Touro University to provide medical directorship and volunteer medical students,” she said.
Some 20 students rotate and change as some graduate and new ones enroll. On the Times-Herald’s recent visit, three second-year med students, Daisy Chan, 25, Sara Tong, 26 and Cathy Weir, also 26, were on duty.
“This is an amazing opportunity, and to be able to give back to the community, is awesome,” Weir said.
“It reinforces why we got into medicine Chan added. “Working with the kids brings joy.”
“We have families from everywhere,” she said. “From China, India, Pakistan, Guatemala, the Philippines, Mexico, Vietnam, Malaysia” and often, one of the Touro students is able to translate.
For some, the clinic is the first time the child has ever seen a doctor, she said.
“We’ve found blood disorders, leg length discrepancies and other crazy stuff,” Hahn said. “There was a little girl, about 8, who had one leg much longer than the other and we were able to get her orthopedic help and get it repaired. She’d just learned to live with it. She’s so happy now. She smiles much more. She runs and plays and does a lot of stuff she couldn’t do before. Her parents are very grateful.”
Maria Teresa Leach of Vallejo is the medical assistant for both clinics.
“My husband was working at Pennycook and Kathy was the school nurse and she asked him how we can make a clinic,” she said. “He said, ‘well, this is a kitchen — it could be made into a clinic,’ and they got a grant.”
The two looked at the demographics of the various schools in town to determine where to place the clinics, she said.
“We have kids who are new from all over the world, and often we are their first step, because they can’t register for school without their shots,” Leach said. “Imagine a family of six from the Philippines, or somewhere, who doesn’t’ have the money to get shots. They can cost $300 or $400 per child at a private doctor, because they don’t just do shots – they have to do a whole exam. These families can’t afford that. Now, the word is out that the clinic is here, so they can get their shots and get their child in school.”
The medical staff finds the work rewarding, they said.
“You go home feeling good about what you’ve done,” Hahn said, and Tong agreed, saying, “You remember every day why we do this.”
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