Public school is back in session next week in New Hanover County. For teens -- the demographic least likely to seek health care -- this means more access to services such as mental health and substance abuse counseling, nutrition education and physicals. The Cape Fear region happens to be somewhat of a pioneer when it comes to school-based health centers.
They function as adjuncts to nurses’ offices. School-based health centers help adolescents take advantage of such services as confidential counseling, and have exploded from just a handful in the seventies to almost two thousand in forty-five states today. The nonprofit organization Wilmington Health Access for Teens, or WHAT, operates three such centers locally, at Ashley, Laney and New Hanover High Schools. Joy Grady, WHAT’s executive director, says that because health problems such as anxiety, depression, asthma and obesity are rising among teens, convenient health care is crucial.
"They have a rate of health care utilization lower than the other spectrums. They’re young, they tend not to be as sickly, but they do have significant health needs, and I think that this gets forgotten. You know you don’t think about it as much. And they also think that they’re invincible at that age, anyway."
WHAT employees are publicizing the health centers’ offerings to students via classroom presentations, and to teachers and faculty through open house events held in all three school-based health centers.
WHAT is also hosting its seventh annual Picnic with a Purpose luncheon at Wrightsville Beach's Blockade Runner Resort on Thursday, September 12 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Funds raised will be used to help operate the school-based health centers. To attend this year’s event or for more information please contact Mary Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (910) 202-4605, or visit the organization's website.