Alivio targets childhood traumas

By Kevin Beese Staff Writer

An Alivio Medical Center professional goes over COVID vaccination information with a mother in an Alivio treatment room. Alivio has received an Illinois Department of Public Health grant to address childhood health and mental health issues after COVID-19. (Photo by Zumo Photography)

First in a series looking at agencies addressing childhood health and mental health issues after COVID-19

Clarisa Medina Poeliniz has been part of Alivio Medical Center, serving Chicago’s South and West sides, since 2009.

“I knew I wanted to work here when I finished school,” Medina Poeliniz said. “Alivio’s mission and vision aligned with my beliefs and values. I love it here. The parents I work with remind me of my parents. I see myself in a lot of the children.

“You always have a choice, but I love what I do, and I love the organization I work for.”

Medina Poeliniz is an advance practice nurse and a pediatric nurse practitioner at Alivio’s school-based health center at Benito Juarez Academy on the city’s Lower West Side.

She said a $200,000 grant the medical center is receiving from the Illinois Department of Public Health will be used to deliver more workshops and education sessions on the Lower West Side and on the city’s South Side, as well as providing more targeted services and prevention efforts.

“We don’t have full-time mental health clinicians,” Medina Poeliniz said. “The grant will allow us to hire full-time clinicians.”

The Alivio advance practice nurse added that the grant will also help the health advocacy agency ramp up educational sessions that have lagged since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We want to increase awareness and prevention,” Medina Poeliniz said. “Many of our kids have had adverse childhood experiences. People in our communities have dealt with violence, discrimination and chronic health conditions. Post-COVID has almost enhanced these conditions.”

She said she has seen the reports that talk about there being an increase in absenteeism, suspensions and mental health issues, and lower grade point averages and graduation rates in the United States post-COVID.

“We hope to prevent some of those issues,” Medina Poeliniz said of Alivio’s local efforts.

Along with Juarez Academy, Alivio also operates school-based clinics at Little Village Lawndale High School Campus and Jose Clemente Orozco Academy of Fine Arts & Sciences.

Along with Alivio dealing with residents’ health issues, such as oral health, that may have waned during COVID, Medina Poeliniz said, the refugees coming to Chicago is significantly impacting the health agency.

“We are seeing a large amount of people from all over Latin America,” she said. “Traveling to another country is a big stressor. We need to address a lot of issues with them.”

Medina Poeliniz said the Alivio school-based clinics are seeing three or four times the patients due to the influx of migrants.

“We are filling up all our available spots every day. We are serving them as best we can,” she said. “It’s traumatic to move to a new country. Some are finding jobs, some are not. We are providing as many resources as we can.”

She said Alivio officials are still figuring out the logistics of establishing more workshops and educational sessions in the post-COVID era.

Providing more case management is also a vital part of Alivio’s increased efforts, Medina Poeliniz said.

“We want to provide more case management to teachers and parents. Are they having any challenges with students? Are the students experiencing academic problems?” Medina Poeliniz asked. “We want them to understand students’ mental health and how to manage a specific case. With us being in the school environment, I think that really helps.”