Teen Xpress Tackles Health Basics

By Diana Lomont, Editorial Contributor

Vaccines and physicals, asthma inhalers, nutrition classes, counseling sessions. These healthcare basics can help teens break the cycle of poverty, says Eileen Navarro, a family nurse practitioner with Teen Xpress, part of The Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families.

During the program’s 20 years, she has seen the difference these simple services can make in the lives of disadvantaged teens.

“Vaccines enable teens to attend school, health physicals allow them to participate in sports, inhalers keep them out of the ER, and nutrition advice reduces their likelihood of obesity and all its associated risks,” says Navarro. “And the mental health counseling we provide gives these teens a safe place to talk about their life difficulties and learn skills to create a better future for themselves.”

The Teen Xpress clinical team provides all of these services aboard a 40-foot-long, brightly colored bus (pictured below) that’s equipped with modern medical technology. Weekly visits to seven Orange County schools served nearly 800 uninsured youth, ages 11-18, last year.

“For many of these families, health care from Teen Xpress is the only care their kids get. The priority for parents is to work and put food on the table,” says program director Rita Vento, PhD. “We’re serving communities in Orange County where close to 75 percent of the households live below the poverty line.”

Teens served by the program also receive help getting dental care and other assistance from community resources. Teen Xpress will even help youths get their first form of identification so they can apply for jobs.    

The award-winning program has been so successful that expanding to serve other communities is a top goal.

“We are finding more teens who have gone without basic care for years and are pre-diabetic, severely obese, asthmatic, lack vaccinations and have chronic mental health conditions without psychiatric evaluations,” says Navarro. “Additional staff would help us treat more youth, address more health issues and make sure we are doing the very best for the community we serve.”

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