SANTA ANA: Van Provides Health Care to Poor Children
A health care van that stops at 10 schools in Santa Ana to provide free medical care has met with tremendous success, say those involved, as local children's contact with health care providers has boomed. The county conceived the Healthy Tomorrows program in 1991, and the van served the first of its 13,000 children in 1993; a second van will begin making rounds next month. The Los Angeles Times reports that "[e]ligible students and their preschool-age siblings receive free screenings, immunizations and referrals" in the 36-foot-long van, which contains two fully equipped exam rooms. It is funded in part by grants, and various institutions commit their time and resources, including medical personnel from the Children's Hospital of Orange County, social workers from the county's Social Services Agency, office space and administrative help from the Santa Ana Unified School District and technical assistance from Cal State-Fullerton. County spokesperson Diane Thomas said, "When Healthy Tomorrows was just a concept, some doctors volunteered to do some health screenings at two or three of the inner-city schools in Santa Ana. The result was that 88% of the students had (untreated) health needs." Half the van's visitors have never seen a doctor. As a result of the program, 92% of Santa Ana elementary school students have now received state-mandated physicals, up from 51% before the program began. Immunization rates have nearly doubled, from 51% to 100%. The service has its critics, however, chiefly those who argue that as it serves primarily Latinos, some illegal immigrants may be getting care. In addition, said trustee Rosemarie Avila, "It does keep parents, especially newer immigrants, dependent. They don't really learn how to go out in the community and find their own resources." But nurse practitioner Vicky Reiser, who works on the van, said, "We don't care. We're simply here to help the families living in this area. We try to make services available for families no matter who they are. ... I guess it comes down to a philosophy about what a community should offer to community memebers. For a child to go to school in poor health -- clearly, they cannot learn." She stressed that without the van, they would either not get care, or possibly visit one of the sometimes-dangerous storefront clinics in the area (Mehta, 6/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.