Nemours Children's Hospital
Free Back-to-School Physicals for Under- and Uninsured Children
Central Florida, with a strong economy, job availabilities, and year-round nice weather, often becomes home to families seeking a better life. However, many of these families relocate to the region with little more than the clothes on their backs and enough for a rental deposit. When they enroll their children for school, they may be hard-pressed to pay for the back-to-school physicals required to start school.
To address this barrier to entry into the school system, Shepherd’s Hope, the largest free and charitable clinic in Florida, and Nemours Children’s Hospital partnered to launch their Back-to-School Physicals program in 2014, which has grown exponentially during the past five years. What started as a one-day, one-location initiative has grown to five unique locations throughout Central Florida over seven days before the start of the school year. Funding is provided in part by a grant from the Harper Family Charitable Foundation which provides for the health, education, maintenance and well-being of disabled children and adults of all ages in the Central Florida area.
The free back-to-school physicals include general health assessments and sports physicals (minus immunizations) with a Nemours specialist, as well as vision and mammogram (for mothers) screenings at select locations.
This year, providers also assessed a child’s behavioral health to flag for signs of ADHD, autism, and more. If needed, referrals to specialist providers within the Shepherd’s Hope network were made. Parents requested an appointment, ensured eligibility, and usually had their children seen and out the door within an hour, signed physical forms in hand.
Nemours’ Dr. Adalberto Torres, Division Chief within the Division of Critical Care Medicine, has been one of the providers since the program’s beginning. “In all my years of practicing throughout the U.S., I’ve not encountered another program like this. But it’s so needed. Without it, hundreds of children may not be able to attend school,” he said.
Since becoming involved, Dr. Torres has also joined the Shepherd’s Hope board and has recruited many of his Nemours colleagues to the effort. Without an available supply of nurses and physicians to conduct these physical exams, the program could not continue to support the growing need.
Jean Zambrano, vice president of clinical operations with Shepherd’s Hope, underscored the need for pediatricians and nurses to facilitate these physicals. “Without sign-off from a medical provider, the school system will not let the children continue their education here,” she said.