As a child, Rita Williams didn’t realize she had trouble with her eyesight.
A teacher in her Texas hometown, however, took notice and helped get tests for the little girl who many know here as a veteran KTVU reporter. Turned out she needed glasses — an expensive proposition for her family. Those same concerned adults helped find a pair of glasses for Williams to wear.
"Just knowing that someone is there. ... That’s what any child needs to succeed,” she said, adding that those gathered at the Sobrato Center for Nonprofits in Redwood Shores were the type of people who were there for local youth.
A large crowd had gathered at the meeting space Wednesday morning to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the San Mateo County Children’s Health Initiative. Since launched in 2003, the program has grown to have 36,330 children enrolled in a public health insurance program, including more than 4,000 in the locally created Healthy Kids program. That’s equal to 1 in 5 children in San Mateo County taking advantage of the public programs, said Srija Srinivasan of the San Mateo County Health System.
In that 10-year period, 138 children have been enrolled the whole time. Claudia Galvan’s daughter, who is now a healthy 18-year-old planning to soon be the first in her family to attend college, is one of those children.
Galvan said, like Williams, her daughter needed glasses. The family was able to help get her that support as well as get checkups and take advantage of preventative health care options as a result of the county program.
"I’m so grateful,” Galvan said.
Founders Toby J. Douglas, California’s Health Care Services director, and Margaret Taylor, former director of the San Mateo County Health Department, were on hand to discuss the goal of giving all children access to health care. Taylor attributed the success of the program locally to partnering with the schools and targeting communities they knew served populations that could benefit from such services. Douglas said the initial idea was to provide such options for children throughout the state, which has yet to happen. However, the work in San Mateo County, he said, helped in creating the federal Affordable Health Care Act which will give more options for people throughout the state in 2014.
Similar programs throughout the state either have wait lists or closed due to a lack of funding. San Mateo County, on the other hand, used a collection of funders and partners — First Five San Mateo County, Sequoia Healthcare District, Peninsula Health Care District and San Mateo County — to sustain the program, said Ron Robinson of the Health Plan of San Mateo. As a result, 95 percent of children in San Mateo County have health insurance, he said.
Looking forward, the challenge will be to spread the word about the changes coming in health care programs and how that can continue to help local families, said Jean Fraser, San Mateo County Health System chief.
For more information about the Children’s Health Initiative visit www.smcchi.org.
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