Heywood Health to set up shop at ACES

  • Mary Giannetti, left, Director of Resource Development for Heywood Healthcare, discusses plans for a school-based health center at Athol Community Elementary School during Wednesday’s meeting of the Athol Royalston Regional School Committee. Giannetti was joined by Melissa Moreau, manager of women and children’s health for Heywood Medical Group, center, and Jody Langlois, director of practice operations. Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 6/24/2019 10:14:42 AM
Modified: 6/25/2019 1:25:06 PM

ATHOL – Representatives from Heywood Medical Group met with the Athol Royalston Regional School Committee Wednesday night to discuss the establishment of a school-based health center at the Athol Community Elementary School.

Mary Giannetti, Director of Resource Development for Heywood Healthcare, told the committee the opportunity to set up a health center at ACES came “when the (state) Dept. Of Public Health opened up a request for proposal to start a new school-based health center.”

“They have not opened these for about 12 years – there has not been a new school-based health center,” she said. “It was a great opportunity. We’ve had a great working relationship with the schools. We provide telebehavioral health in the high school, we do peer coordination in the middle school, and we also help with the backpack program at the elementary schools.”

Giannetti went on to explain there are 33 school-based health centers in Massachusetts, with a “high concentration” in the greater Boston area. She added, however, that Heywood Health has been operating a health center at Murdock High School in Winchendon for over a decade.

“Every school-based health center is unique,” she said. “They take on the culture and the needs of what the schools are, but overall they consistently have the same benefits. One of those is that it really improves access to health care because they’re there where the students are.”

Access is extremely important, she pointed out, a recently-completed health needs assessment found that transportation was cited as a major barrier to health care access.

As part of her PowerPoint presentation, Giannetti added that school-based health centers reduce the incidence of emergency room visits, reduce school absences and drop-out rates, help to link students to primary care providers, and assist families with health insurance enrollment and access to community services.

While studying the feasibility of establishing the health center, Giannetti said, “We heard that last year, at ACES alone, there were 15,000 school nurse visits, which is extremely high for a community such as Athol. And what we heard was that, in addition to the medical needs that the students are coming with, they have a very high number of students with chronic medical conditions that require intensive care for them.”

“Students may be coming in (to the nurse) with stomach aches or headaches,” she continued, “but, although they may be manifesting as a physical ailment, there are a lot of behavioral and social issues going on. School-based health centers can deal with that as well.”

Giannetti said an advisory committee was formed to: provide guidance and feedback; assure alignment of the center with school and community needs, and; act as “champions” on behalf of the center in the community.

The center, to be known as Access Healthcare at ACES, will be overseen by Dr. Kay-Ann Hannigan, who is works with Heywood Pediatrics in Gardner. In addition to physical and behavioral health care, the facility will also provide immunizations, disease management and monitoring of chronic conditions, vision and hearing screening, basic lab services, nutritional health service, and oral health screenings.

Giannetti said it is the goal of Heywood Medical Group to have the center and up and operating by this fall.

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