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Retired nurse Diane Dormeyer leaves behind some big, sensible shoes for her replacement to fill in the Forest Park schools. Dormeyer, who liked to sign her emails "Nurse Ratchett," worked at District 91 for 18 years and has been instrumental in streamlining the way student immunization and health screenings take place at the school level.
The trouble when she started was making sure children starting school in the fall were compliant with mandatory Illinois health record laws.
"When Oct. 15 rolled around, we'd have more than 100 kids we excluded. It was horrendous, I felt like a bill collector. I'd have parents not answer the phone and sneak their kids into school."
So when she heard about a children's mobile health clinic being introduced by Loyola University Hospital, she made sure it stopped in Forest Park. "We were one of the first customers of the Ronald McDonald Clinic," said Dormeyer. "They used to come to the health fair at the Community Center in November."
The 13-ton, 40-foot mobile health trailer now visits Forest Park at the park district four times a summer and once in October. "I have a very good relationship with them," Dormeyer said. The clinic's first visit will be June 28 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Other visits will be Friday, July 6; Thursday, July 12; and Thursday, July 19.
The clinic offers physicals, immunizations, vision and hearing screenings, asthma care and lung screenings, lead screenings and nutrition information. It is privately funded by the Wallace D. Johnson Children's Care Foundation and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicago and Northwest Indiana and other private funders.
This year Smile Illinois, a free mobile children's dental clinic will also be available on July12. The dental clinic offers exams, cleaning, fluoride, sealants and referrals. Insurance is accepted and grants are available with pre-registration.
The mobile clinics serve roughly 120 children every summer at no charge. Children are seen on a first-come/first served basis and must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Paperwork, available from the D91 office at 424 Desplaines Ave., must be filled out in advance, said Dormeyer.
She said the costs of well-child visits are often not covered by family health insurance. "It's much bigger than the bad economy. People tell me, 'I don't have a doctor and it'll cost me $300 and I can't afford it.' Even people with health insurance. This has been an issue long before the economy went south. To get the physical and immunizations required can cost a lot."
With Dormeyer following up with parents, and the help of the clinic, she got compliance for the school-year immunization and physical records up to 100 percent last year, she said.
What wasn't so successful was compliance with mandatory eye exams for kindergarteners and preschoolers - a new requirement since 2008.
"We did pretty poorly. Most parents will tell you eye exams aren't covered by insurance."
Dormeyer is not afraid to say what she thinks, and she thinks kindergarten eye exams are overkill since the schools screen all preschoolers for hearing and vision anyway. "There's someone who's not a nurse in Springfield who decided that every kindergartener should be screened for vision by an optometrist," she observed. Traditional eye exams at an optometrist's office can be expensive and often the patient is not able to identify the letters on the eye charts anyway.
"In pre-school when we screen, the kids don't have to identify letters. There's a girl, a boy, a bunny," she said. Dormeyer is careful to note that kindergarten children can have significant eye problems - her own son's vision problems were caught in kindergarten - but she thinks school-based early childhood screenings usually catch them.
Dormeyer's can-do attitude streamlined screenings for D91 students. She signed the district up as a "practicum" site for nurses/medical workers learning to perform vision and hearing tests. This, after her own certification process - where she learned to administer tests on children in Cicero public schools - was "a fiasco!" Dormeyer made sure the practicum eye and hearing testers were well cared for at D91, provided with lunch and able to park easily. "[Health Service Assistant] Brenda [Ali] and I would have had 900 eye and hearing exams, but instead the practicum students do it," she said.
Even though she's no longer in the district, Dormeyer is helping this summer to combine one visit of the Ronald McDonald clinic with the park district's Children's Health Fair on July 12 called "Rock: Resources for Our Community's Kids." Along with the mobile doctor and dentist clinics, the event focuses on getting children moving and will include a moon walk, bike safety information, a DJ, healthy snack demonstrations, a beanbag throw, and raffled bicycles. Parents can also sign children up for the All Kids low-income state medical insurance.
With her typical candor, she says childhood obesity is something she's seen explode over the past 18 years. She blames it on inactivity fed by electronic devices ("These kids are cyber-spaced!") and poor nutrition. "It's not just dysfunctional families," she said. "My experience is that [children are obese] in families with a mom and dad and two cars in the driveway and two really difficult jobs. I've seen kids at the school get McDonald's delivered for lunch every single day."
The answer is not easy, she says, and involves special care for each child. "It means taking the time to care enough to look at each kid as an individual person. No kid is inherently bad, and there's no kid who wants to be fat. It's never a healthy situation."
Even though she's retired from D91, she will "hang around and help through the transition," Dormeyer said. And she's committed to the mobile clinics. "They could become a post-retirement volunteer project I would do."
Looking to the future, she said the schools will need to help children more and more. "We're playing a very ambiguous role. How involved do we have to get [in kids' lives]? We are forced to be involved when we feed 20 kids breakfast every week in the office and when they are not adequately dressed and fed. Whether we like it or not, it is the way it is. I've heard teachers say, 'I became a teacher to teach not to worry whether my kids have shoes.' Wake up. It's 2012 and they're hungry and they don't have winter coats. You can pretend that isn't the case or deal with it and become part of the solution."
Next year, the state has mandated a new vaccine requirement: The Tdap vaccine (which inoculates against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) must be current for all entering sixth graders.
"That will be a new challenge for whoever gets my job, bless her heart," said Dormeyer.