Most of the time, teachers prefer their students pay attention and avoid distractions.
But on certain Wednesdays in the New Castle Area School District, a little distraction is welcome, especially when it comes to kids who might feel anxious about visiting the doctor.
The district has recently taken advantage of the Care Mobile, an organization that’s partnered with Ronald McDonald House Charities of Pittsburgh and Morgantown and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
New Castle and Care Mobile got together last year when school district officials became aware many students were not yet immunized. That relationship turned into a program in which the Care Mobile — a mobile doctor’s office — visits one of the three campuses the first and third Wednesdays of each month to help out with issues such as asthma, injury prevention, nutrition, health and safety, well-child and infant care, sick-child visits, immunizations, adolescent and young adult health care, routine physical exams, referrals for specialty care and lead screenings.
Many of the patients are young, and this is where the distraction comes in handy.
The Care Mobile has a couple of rooms — one looks like the interior of a tree house and another is called the “Under the Sea Room,” and the latter features aquariums and fish. The young patients are given a book with pictures of items in the room to identify.
“It distracts them from thinking they are in a doctor’s office,” Care Mobile Manager Cheryl Krause says. “It alleviates a lot of their fear. They also win a prize, it could be shoes or blankets or books or toys.’’
The Care Mobile, which is in its 18th year, travels around the Pittsburgh area. The 40-feet-long, eight-feet-wide vehicle has two exam rooms, a laboratory, a reception room and a space for medical records. The organization received a grant in 2015 to redesign the interior to be more comforting and child-friendly.
The Care Mobile program started in Chicago, and Krause says the mobile unit in Pittsburgh is the organization’s second in the nation. There are 50 others across the world, including in Poland and Thailand.
Meanwhile, New Castle officials are thrilled with the district's partnership with the Care Mobile, which began in February.
“It’s a great plus for our district,” says New Castle Assistant Superintendent Debbie DeBlasio. “They have seen a half a dozen of our children already and treated them for various concerns. The neat thing is that they will see anyone from ages zero to 21. If they have insurance with a co-pay — no sweat, no co-pay. If they don’t have insurance — no sweat, free service. All the children that are in need are able to be served. We’re very, very pleased.’’
While the program has been a blessing for school districts such at New Castle, DeBlasio says it is not intended to replace a student’s regular doctor.
“We are not by any means trying to replace pediatricians,” she says. “They are there if the pediatrician cannot see them. They are there if they do not have a pediatrician.’’