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Charleston Assures Every Child a Healthy Start in Life

Continuity of Care is Program Goal

In Charleston, a team of community leaders, including representatives of a cross-section of the area’s health agencies, is collaborating to ensure that every child in the City will experience continuity of care – a succession of all essential services necessary to maintain health or treat illness.

This is Charleston’s Healthy Start Program, and its continuity-of-care goal is accomplished through the establishment of a “medical home” for each child and through the expansion of educational opportunities for parents and caregivers. A medical home is defined as a physician, medical practice or clinic which can provide total personal health care, including prevention and treatment. It continually oversees and attends to needs such as immunizations, dental care, mental health, nutrition and treatment of illnesses.

Healthy Start is Charleston’s response to a range of health care problems affecting the City’s children,

  • 14 percent of whom are without health care insurance coverage,

  • 13 percent of whom live in extreme poverty,

  • 19 percent of whom of children under 18 years of age have not had routine dental care during the past year, and

  • seven percent of whom have not seen a physician in the last year.

In 1996, 242 babies were born to mothers under the age of 18, 9.6 percent of all babies were born with low birth weight, and 13.7 percent of pregnant women received no prenatal care in the first three months of pregnancy. In 1998, 18 percent of children seen in public health clinics were not fully immunized.

Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. sees the Healthy Start Program as his City’s most ambitious response to the America’s Promise goal of giving a healthy future to every child. It was launched following the April 1997 America’s Promise kick-off event in Philadelphia – attended by the Mayor and a Charleston delegation – with the Mayor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families facilitating and overseeing the planning process, and start-up funding provided by SmithKline Beecham, the CareAlliance Health Service (of the Roper Foundation) and the Charleston County School District. Initially, the Healthy Start Planning Committee included representatives of the City, the Medical University of South Carolina’s College of Nursing, Dental School and Family Services Institute, the March of Dimes, PedsPlus, and the Charleston County School District. As the Program has progressed, the Committee has expanded with the addition of the Medical Society, the Family Service Research Center, the Libraries and Learning Center, and several other organizations involved in delivery of services for children.

As an example of the continuum of care services being provided through the Program, the MUSC School of Dentistry is delivering dental health services to 24 schools in Charleston. Dental students and hygienists provide screenings, proper oral hygiene, health fairs, and dental supplies to students, and the School of Dentistry was recently awarded a grant to provide dental sealant to third grade students. MUSC has also agreed to utilize its recently-acquired Dental Van in a community dental outreach program.

Among current activities, the Program is:

  • Convening a Health Leadership Team of CEO’s of medical institutions and relevant service providers which will commit the resources needed to implement the Charleston Community Health Corps Initiative.

  • Mapping existing personal medical care available, health programs, services, initiatives, research projects, etc.

  • Working in partnership with the State Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Social Services to identify, among other things, the most critical health needs of children and young people.

  • Conducted a survey at five local hospitals to collect data on Emergency Room users and the types of illnesses or injuries for which children are seen and treated.

In addition, the Program has:

  • Designed a plan that is putting full-time nurses in every school, utilizing schools for after-hours clinics, and establishing “health catchment” areas that will have multidisciplinary health teams.

  • Supported the establishment of the Reach Out and Read (ROAR) Program at the Medical University of South Carolina. MUSC was awarded a grant to implement this reading initiative at two pediatric clinics and is examining the expansion of ROAR to include prenatal programs. Healthy Start worked with MUSC to link this project to community-based volunteer and nonprofit programs.

  • Engaged the Medical Society as a key organization in Healthy Start. The Society in taking a lead role in addressing medical homes for children and has created a subcommittee which will develop a medical home plan.

  • Organized a team of library and health professionals to design a marketing and outreach plan for the Healthy Start Resource Library, to recommend publications and resource materials to add to the Library’s collection, and to develop the necessary linkages and connections to schools, teachers, parents, care providers, etc.

Healthy Start Resource Library

The Healthy Start Resource Library is the most recent addition to the Healthy Start Program, designed to educate parents on child health care issues and improve their understanding of how to access medical care. Based on the belief that promotion of children’s health is accomplished through education and knowledge, the Library provides families and childcare providers with easy access to materials on a wide range of child care issues. Housed at the Charleston County Public Library, the Healthy Start Collection includes 128 publications and 30 videos. The titles in the collection reflect the diversity of issues covered. Among them: Parent’s Journal Guide to Raising Great Kids, Questions Children Ask, Comprehensive Guide to Parenting, Childhood Asthma, 10 Ways to Raise a Non-Racist Child, Parenting Your Teenagers, and Children’s Medical Guide.

“Our goal in Charleston is that every child, regardless of circumstances, has, as a right of citizenship, a medical home and continuity of care,” says Mayor Riley. “The resources are out there. It’s just a matter of coordinating them.”

 Information on the Charleston Healthy Start Program is available from Jacquie Kennedy, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Children, Youth and Families, at (843) 965-4190.

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