San Jose: Healthier Kids Foundation reaches major milestone
From right, health screener Braden Chinn checks the hearing of 5-year-old Hazel L. as part of the Healthy Kids Foundation's free screenings for students in the South Bay. Photo by Katie Lauer.

“Open wide like an alligator!” was just one way Dr. Shashi Khosla helped check preschoolers’ teeth at Kidango Meadowfair Center in East San Jose this week as part of free screenings offered by the Healthier Kids Foundation, which recently celebrated more than 305,000 screenings over the past six years.

Of those dental screenings, 33 percent of students served in the South Bay receive referrals, and every day the staff sees 4 to 7 kids with emergency dental needs, which can range from deep cavities to painful infections. The foundation serves low-income students across Santa Clara County schools.

“I think it’s very good what this organization is doing because it’s reaching out to probably kids that are not being seen every six months or so,” Khosla said. “Also, I think a lot of times the parent doesn’t know something’s going on in the mouth, because it could be tiny. It could be moderate even and there’s no symptoms.”

But the Healthy Kids Foundation’s services don’t stop at teeth; high-tech digital optic scan cameras check children’s eyes for astigmatism or myopia in seconds, while differently colored earbuds fit even the smallest of ears to measure eardrum vibrations. Pyramid eye charts and skull-squeezing headphones are long gone.

After these screenings, the children’s parents not only receive reports with their children’s results, but if need be, they are paired with staff who help connect them with case managers and coordinate insurance with providers. Health screener Patricia Vega thinks this help navigating an otherwise confusing and expensive health system is a vital service, especially for lower income families who may not otherwise have the resources to do so.

“I feel that we make an impact where it’s needed,” Vega said. “A lot of times, I would say low-income families are overshadowed, unfortunately, and the fact that we have the ability to help these students out is rewarding.”

The latest “patients” at Meadowfair weren’t bothered by these health checks, in-and-out within minutes between making hand turkeys, painting pumpkins or eating lunch. The preschool students said they weren’t scared and it was actually kind of fun, especially since the eye scanner made bird noises and displayed pretty lights.

“We screen a lot of younger children, because 80 percent of the child’s learning at preschool age is through developing fine motor skills and gross motor skills,” said Healthy Kids Foundation Development Manager Marissa Hacker. “Children are our future leaders. We really want our kids to have a foundation so they can live happy and healthy lives by being able to make sure that they’re healthy in all ways.”

Serving mostly low-income children from 6 months up to 18 years old, the foundation’s goal is early detection and prevention, especially as vision, hearing and dental concerns can easily go undetected in between professional health provider visits.

“I really believe it’s important for them to be screened because I know how dental, hearing and vision health are really important for their growth and development, and it can slip parents’ minds,” said Vera Kindle, a teacher at the Meadowfair Center. “These sort of things can help us out, because parents don’t always have the money or the time. A couple of parents were even shocked that we were going to offer things like this.”

Contact Katie Lauer at klauer77@gmail.com or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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