COLUMBIA — For Mandy Weakley, the most frustrating part of calling the emergency room about her son's breathing problems is being put on hold for what seems like forever. While emergency room care in mid-Missouri is reasonably quick compared to urban areas, it is still costly, inconvenient and especially frustrating when it could have been prevented.
"Sometimes it's very minor and you just feel like an idiot for sitting there all day," said Mernell King, Head Start director for the Central Missouri Community Action. King said the effects of emergency room visits go beyond the obvious — the bills.
For more information about "I CAN" or to get involved in the training, go to the project's Web site or call Trisha Wright at 443-8706 ext. 292.
"With the economy the way it is, a missed day of work can mean a loss of a job," she said.
Community Action, a nonprofit agency, is managing a new program, "I CAN Help My Child Stay Healthy," to promote early health intervention and cut down on unnecessary emergency room visits. The aim is to help parents learn when and how to take care of a child's health problem themselves, and when to go to a doctor. Community Action plans to offer the program to 1,500 families in Missouri by the end of the year and 8,000 families across the nation within three years.
The first mid-Missouri program drew nearly 450 parents and other family members to the hall of Knights of Columbus in Columbia on Thursday. Parents were recruited from 16 different Head Start centers from eight mid-Missouri counties.
One of the parents, Latreece Patterson, a mother of three from Worley Head Start, said she took her son to the emergency room for a virus just last week. She said that not missing work or school and saving money were among the most important issues that programs like "I CAN" could address for her community.
King said events like Thursday's help get parents excited about talking about health.
"When you get 500 people in a room, you think well maybe it is a big deal that I do this," she said.
The training was designed to be fun and engaging for a diverse group of parents. Two visual presentations — one in Spanish, one in English — were projected on each side of a podium covered in prizes. Board games, baby care products and other goodies were awarded to audience members for answering questions correctly.
Darin Preis, executive director of Community Action, pumped up the crowd, saying: "We're here to beat the health care system and to stay ahead of (it)."
That brought a wave of cheers and applause.
For Patterson and many other parents, the best part of the training was the book, "What to do when your child gets sick." Each parent was given a copy to take home. The book was also used during the training to help parents find information on a variety of health topics, such as how to recognize a rash and correctly take a child's temperature.
Trisha Wright, "I CAN" administrative assistant with Community Action, said the main value of the "I CAN" program will come in the follow-up sessions each month for the next three months at the home of each family. Wright said that it is in the follow-ups where the message really starts to stick.
King said she expects to gain hard data from the "I CAN" event and follow-up program to see the effect on Medicaid dollar savings in Missouri.
"The real work happens after the training," she said.