Freshman state Rep. Stephen Ortego is teaming up with Lafayette Parish School System Superintendent Pat Cooper in an innovative attempt to bring Cooper’s proven model of school-based health and wellness to Lafayette Parish.

Ortego has introduced legislation that if passed would create a formal partnership between LPSS and UMC Hospital. The goals of the partnership are outlined in House Bill 867 as follows:

1. To provide primary care services to students and their family members such that avoidable emergency department utilization is reduced and reliance on costly treatments for preventable conditions diminishes in the community.
2. To provide incentives which facilitate greater involvement on the part of parents and other family members in the education of children.
3. To transition the overall care model of a charity hospital to one which features an increased level of preventive care and treatment delivered in schools and other community-based settings by the hospital and its community partners.
4. To optimize Medicaid federal financial participation through provision of primary care.
5. To adapt successfully to systemic health policy changes during and pursuant to implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in a manner which maximizes health benefits to children and families.
6. To design its system of services in such a manner as to facilitate replication of the program by partnerships among other hospitals and schools of this state.

“Dr. Cooper has already proven that comprehensive school reform is best achieved through a truly comprehensive health and wellness model in public schools,” Ortego says in a press release announcing the legislation. “It may also be a great fit for our LSU hospital system which already specializes in caring for the communities that need it the most.”

If successful, Ortego would like to see the partnerships and school wellness models spread statewide, though his primary goal is to help Cooper on a local level, he says. Lafayette Parish is the largest school district in which Cooper has tried his wellness model, Ortego says.

“The results of these previous programs have been highly successful and include increases in attendance rates, graduation rates and test scores,” according to the release from Ortego. “At the same time crime in the communities went down, child obesity rates dropped and teen pregnancy declined. The model demonstrates children who are healthy in mind and body can effectively learn in public schools under this approach.”

The announcement from Ortego also leaves its recipients with a subtle hint on where Ortego may stand on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal to overhaul public education, a four-bill legislative package that teachers unions and other critics decry as an attack on public education.

“Our focus needs to be on fixing our failing public schools in Louisiana rather than writing them off,” Ortego says in the press release.

In a phone interview Friday morning, Ortego tells The Ind that his comment doesn’t commit his vote one way or the other on Jindal’s plan, but rather asserts that “we’re not really looking at the heart of the problems” in public education. Ortego also notes that Jindal’s education reform bills will be heard through the House Education Committee, while Ortego’s bill will first go through the House Health and Welfare Committee.

“This is comprehensive education reform that is based on the principle that children can learn in our public schools if given the opportunity. Access to a school-based health and wellness program is proven to give that opportunity,” he says.

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