PAWTUCKET — Thanks to grant money and a local physician's unique idea, the “doctor is in” at Shea High School.
Dr. Tanya Becker, a pediatrician who has practiced in Pawtucket for the past seven years, has set up a satellite office in the lower level of Shea High School. Here, on certain days and during scheduled hours, she will see students who are ill or in need of medical exams or other treatment in the same way she would at her regular office 59 Prospect St.
Both Becker and Shea Principal Christopher Lord consider the operation to be a “win-win” for the students and the school environment. Students are being provided with more availability and access to healthcare while at the same time Becker is reaching out to the community to promote her practice and the importance of having regular medical check-ups.
Lord said, “We are delighted to have Dr. Becker aboard. It's an opportunity to give our kids access to first class health care, and she is a wonderful addition to the Shea community.”
Having Becker in-house does not replace school nurse Marie Riley, who is still the main contact for the medical needs of students that occur during school hours. Becker will only be seeing or treating students who are her patients, or whose parents have agreed to have her be their child's primary physician. As such, she will only get paid by billing through the patient's insurance company, just as she would in her Prospect Street office.
“No student can be seen by me without the consent of their parent or legal guardian” said Becker. She noted that if someone faints on the football field or becomes sick in class, it would still be Riley who would evaluate the student and then either contact the child's parents or summon medical personnel. However, if she is registered as the student's primary care doctor, she can become involved in the medical issue more quickly and directly.
With the convenience of her new in-school office hours, she is hoping to be named the primary doctor for a good number of the Shea student population. In particular, she wants to be a resource for parents who might not currently have a doctor for their child or for those who have difficulty, due to work or other factors, in getting their child to medical appointments.
“I'm not trying to take patients from their doctors,” said Becker. “If a parent is happy with their child's doctor, than by all means, stay.” However, she said the advantages of a Shea student having her as their doctor means that the student can see her during school hours (with an excuse from class). “This will cut down on tardiness and absenteeism. This way, the student can get back to class quicker then they would with an outside doctor's appointment, and the parent doesn't have to miss work,” she said.
Becker said that with the accessibility of the school doctor's office, it should encourage more teens to have regular check-ups, and will also help in cases where there are chronic medical conditions that need monitoring. She also said that for the students who elect her to be their primary physician, their health insurance paperwork and procedures should go more smoothly, because there is no nurse practitioner involved in the middle of the process.
Becker said that on her days at Shea, which consist of two mornings a week for now, she brings with her a nursing assistant from her Prospect Street office. The nursing assistant is also bi-lingual, which can be helpful to students and their parents, especially those who are newly arrived from other countries.
Becker said she received a $12,000 grant from the American Medical Association to help with administrative start-up costs. This money has been used primarily to print up forms and flyers and to equip the satellite office. “None of this money will be used for salaries,” Becker said, adding that the only way she will get paid is by billing through medical insurance plans. She added that the arrangement is aligned with a “new model” in healthcare, in which the primary care physician functions as the “hub” for all of a patient's related medical needs.
Becker said she received approval from the School Committee last spring, and held some meetings with parents and students at Shea at the end of the last school year to introduce herself and the concept. She also said that parents of new students received information about her services when they registered their child, and flyers and sign-up forms were sent home with students when this new school year began. She also planned to speak about her services at upcoming parents meetings.
Becker said that so far, she is encouraged by the number of students who have selected her to be their primary doctor, but said the concept is “a work in progress.” She said the Shea staff, including Principal Lord and nurse Riley, have been very supportive. An unused storage room has been turned into an examination room with a small waiting area and bathroom for Becker and her assistant, while the school nurse's office has been relocated next to it. The goal was to create a unified health area that students could turn to.
“This is a very challenging student body,” said Becker. “Some 25 different countries are represented here, and there are language barriers and some students who are high-risk. There are students who have come here and they have never had health care.” She added that, according to statistics and her own experiences with Pawtucket families, about half of the city's students don't have health insurance and half don't have a primary doctor.
Originally from Oregon, Becker said she came to Rhode Island to attend medical school at Brown University and did her residency at Hasbro Children's Hospital. She also met her husband, who came from the local area, and has lived in Rhode Island now for 24 years. She spent a couple of years working at Blackstone Valley Community Healthcare, where she said she got to know families in Pawtucket and developed an appreciation for the local community.
Becker said that if the satellite office concept works, she could possibly foresee expanding it to other city schools at some point. “It's really just saying, 'We have a doctor's office for your child in the high school and the care is not any different than you would get at my office on Prospect Street,'” said Becker.