Belen High School to be first in state to add a prenatal clinic for students

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The Belen High School's school based health center will be the first in the state to add a prenatal clinic to the long list of comprehensive health care and wellness services provided to students.

The state pilot program will become a model for other school based health centers to follow, said Becky Rivera, graduation, reality and dual-role skills teacher.

"It's exciting to think that we can be a model center for other school based health centers to adapt to their centers to do the same thing, which means we're going to help more and more teens," Rivera said.

School officials are busy purchasing equipment and setting up the odds and ends of the clinic, estimated to begin providing services in the fall.

The district received $51,000 through a GRADS Plus grant, $40,000 of which is earmarked for the clinic, aiming to expand GRADS services by creating efficient ways to address students' needs.

Equipment purchased for the prenatal clinic include a Doppler ultrasound and education supplies for prenatal care, as well as a cholesterol machine and other supplies that can be utilized by any student seeking health services.

Funds must be spent by July 1, which is Rivera's last day at the school before retiring.

Acquiring the proper equipment will take some time, but the opening date of the clinic will depend on completion of administrative paperwork behind the clinic.

Officials with the school based health center, which is open part-time, also collaborated with University of New Mexico's Midwifery Associates to provide after-hours care for students at Belen's and Los Lunas' First Choice Community Healthcare.

Having such services creates a positive effect for adolescents, since they are able to immediately attend to their children's medical needs, as well as complete regular check ups, locally.

"I had an instance this year where I had a girl that was panicking because she couldn't feel her baby move," Rivera said. "She was almost hysterical by the time she got to Albuquerque. If we would've had the Doppler here, they could've checked her for the (baby's) heartbeat and she would've found out in a much more timely manner that she and the baby were OK."

Health Center Nurse Practitioner Therese Hidalgo had a similar experience this past fall when a student who was referred to another site to get contraceptives became pregnant.

Although the health center helped her break the news to her mom through primary and behavioral care, these difficulties delayed prenatal care for the first trimester.

"If we had a program here, we could've worked with her here about her dilemma, which is a common dilemma, especially with New Mexico being No. 1 in teen pregnancy," Hidalgo said. "She and her baby would've been protected for those first 12 weeks."

A lack of prenatal care or delay in receiving it places the fetus at risk for health problems and spending a longer period of time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Plus, students won't have to miss a full day of school to have these issues addressed at a doctor's office in Albuquerque since such services are limited to two clinics and one midwife in Valencia County, Hidalgo said.

Besides the convenience, staff at the health center are trained and comfortable in treating adolescents, which isn't always the case with some medical providers, Hidalgo said.

With resources easily accessible for pregnant teens through GRADS and the health center, it aids them in staying in school and eliminates their risk of dropping out of school.

"If they know they can get all kinds of help here from mental, physical and educational — it's like a one-stop shop," Rivera said.

"That's what we're trying to do is keep these kids healthy and in school."


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.