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You can reach out to an underserved population teen-agers often without spending a dime, while reaping many rewards. Several women’s health care providers recently discussed with Women’s Health Center Management how and why they initiated teen-centered programs, explaining there are several good reasons to do so:
• Seeing more patients. Serving teenagers can directly or indirectly increase the number of your paying clients, notes Diane Holmay, RN, MS, director of the Center for Women’s Health at Franciscan Health Care in LaCrosse, WI. About four years ago, the center began offering "teen sport days" for girls who needed comprehensive health exams before they could participate in a school sport. The sport days generate five to 10 new patients each season. (For more information on the sport days program, see story, p. 75.)
• Reaching the parents. Judith Kulko, RN, MSN, coordinator of the cancer clinical research office at Hartford (CT) Hospital, initiated a high school program to teach breast health to girls in health classes. During the classes, she injected a deliberate attempt to reach parents through the kids. She offered to host a pizza party for the class with the most parents attending a local health education program. Given that incentive, many of the girls persuaded their mothers to come to the hospital for breast checks.
• Thinking of the future. Affecting the health behavior of young people will have important long-term effects on the entire health care system of tomorrow, insists Cindy Dreher, MPH, MAT, director of The Women’s Place at Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, SC. Kids today are more sedentary and overweight than ever before, which, she adds, may result in heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis later in life. (For projected numbers of teens through the year 2050, see chart, p. 75.)
• Providing needed services. Health-related services for teens provide much-needed information and care. After more teens began delivering babies at her hospital often for the second time Penny Koger, MSN, vice president of patient services at Henry County Memorial Hospital in New Castle, IN, initiated a prenatal program just for them. It provides sex education classes in which the proper use of condoms is highlighted, and boyfriends are encouraged to attend. Health educators and social workers teach the classes, as well as those focusing on smoking cessation and nutrition, Koger says.
Koger’s community is small, with 18,000 people in the town and only 375 teen-agers in the local high school. In 1993, 34 girls ages 14 to 17 had babies at the hospital. By 1996, the teen program had been in place for several years, and the number of girls having babies at Henry County Memorial had dropped to 16, Koger says, though she adds that her program can’t take all the credit.
The fewer teen pregnancies can be attributed in part to an abstinence-based sexuality program that teaches refusal skills, which is conducted at the high school, she explains. The program was begun by the Henry County Health Department, and Koger promptly offered staff to teach sections in the school. "If you can’t beat ’em," she says, " join ’em!"