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Making a Difference: GISH Student Wellness Center helped students cope with the pandemic uncertainties

Making a Difference: GISH Student Wellness Center helped students cope with the pandemic uncertainties

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Started through a partnership with CHI St. Francis Medical Center in 1997, the Grand Island Senior High Wellness Center has played a vital role in helping students stay healthy both physically and mentally.

That mission was put to a big test last year and this year with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The student wellness center serves both GISH and Walnut Middle School students. Its staff — Caroline Jones, Stephanie Bauer and April Mora — are employed by CHI Health.

Mora, a medical assistant, has been with the center since its beginning. Jones has been a counselor at the Wellness Center for 15 years, and Bauer for seven years.

Mora said the wellness center was started to provide students basic pediatric health care and mental health care. She said there was a lack of pediatric care and mental health providers in Grand Island at the time. The wellness center was started, Mora said, through a partnership of the school, CHI Health, private businesses and the Grand Island community.

For nearly a quarter of a century the wellness center has provided both comprehensive and convenient mental and physical health care of students.

Among the services they provide are:

— Acute/urgent care when students are not feeling well.

— School and sports physicals.

— Care for chronic illness, such as asthma, seizure disorders, diabetes and eating disorders.

— Immunizations.

— Laboratory test for throat cultures, blood draws and more to find the causes of illness.

— Prescription medication.

— Mental health services such as assessments, consultations, evaluations and treatment.

— Substance abuse services.

— Patient education to teach students how to care of their health.

Both Jones and Bauer are mental health and alcohol and drug counselors.

Jones said they get referrals from the school, families, or from health and human services.

“We can do substance and mental health evaluations,” Jones said. “Based on what is going on in our recommendations, we can see them on an ongoing basis.”

Brittany Augustyn, an advanced practice registered nurse from CHI Health, also works with students.

Since the pandemic hit this time last year, Bauer and Jones said it has affected the students on many different levels. The high school alone has 2,500 students. Many of the students are from other countries, presenting both a language and cultural barrier in providing wellness services.

Students also experience adolescence differently. The pandemic only compounded those student experiences, and created a sense of uncertainty as their routines were disrupted.

Jones said during the pandemic they saw an increase in referrals to treat students who were suffering from depression.

“We started noticing it last spring,” she said.

That was at the height of the pandemic, as schools closed and the students were being educated online.

“We are proud of our efforts since COVID hit,” Jones said. “We couldn’t be here. The school was completely shut down. We had to work out of the CHI Family Medicine Clinic.”

The wellness staff worked together to make a list of the students who were receiving services. Along with reaching out to them by phone and emails, Bauer said they used telehealth sessions for the first time in working with students.

“It (telehealth) happened just overnight,” Jones said.

She said students tended to wanted to be seen in person.

“But it (telehealth) was a good substitute,” Jones said.

Mora said for physical health there was more one-on-one contact with the students compared to the mental health services Jones and Bauer were providing via telehealth.

Both Bauer and Jones said there was a lot of collaboration between the nurses and mental health counselors ensure students received the physical and mental health services they needed.

They said as health authorities began getting the pandemic under control, especially with the rollout of the various vaccines to immunize students and staff members, they have seen a great improvement among the students, especially as their high school routines and traditions became more normalized and they were able to socialize with other students in person.

“We are happy with what we do and that we can make any kind of difference,” Bauer said.

For more information, visit gips.org or call 308-384-2265.

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