Saskatoon schools attack poverty with clinics

June 11, 2012

SASKATOON – Doctors' offices are popping up in some Saskatoon Catholic schools as the school district tries to meet the unique needs of families in poverty.

"The traditional model of health care delivery by appointment in a doctor's office or in an emergency department does not meet the needs of many children and adolescents," says Dr. Maryam Mehtar.

Health is often determined by a person's social situation and poor families often face greater barriers to accessing health care, said Mehtar, an assistant professor and program director from the department of pediatrics at the University of Saskatchewan.

Having the doctor and other health care professionals provide health and wellness services at the school improves accessibility for students and families, she told a May 24-25 conference on School and Community Wellness.

In the school-based programs, health care professionals work with parents and school staff to become an integral part of the school environment, Mehtar said.

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, in partnership with Saskatoon Tribal Council Health and Family Services, hosted the two-day conference, which 160 people attended.

The first school to have a doctor's office was St. Mary's Community School in May 2007, followed by W.P. Bate in 2008, St. Mark in 2011 and E.D. Feehan Catholic High School in 2012 – all of which are designated community schools.

At St. Mary's Catholic School, about 900 patients were seen from May 2007 to January 2011, with an average of two to four follow-up visits per year.

The health care professionals that provide services in the schools include a pediatrician, optometrist, social worker, community liaison and community development co-ordinators, kinesiology and nursing students, dental service providers, a yoga instructor and elders.

Pediatric school-based clinics provide comprehensive pediatric care within schools for children who live in low-income neighbourhoods of Saskatoon.