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Doctors fight absenteeism in city schools

Posted at 5:52 PM, Nov 28, 2018

Inside Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, a doctor is on a mission to change the community far beyond its walls. 

"If we want to help the community fulfill the promise of medicine, to achieve their best health, the only way I felt like we could do that is being side by side with them, working with the community and allocating the appropriate resources and information that they need," Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos said. 

That's the premise for Medicine for the Greater Good, an organization he helped start in 2013. His passion is spurred by his upbringing in Baltimore. 

"Feeling that connection with the community has made me understand that I'm not a doctor helping them. I'm just a community member that happens to be a doctor," Galiatsatos said. 

The team of physicians and students go to churches, apartment complexes and schools to figure out what people are struggling with. Their latest initiative focuses on proactively addressing the issues that are keeping kids home from school. 

"A lot of the schools here in Baltimore City struggle with issues such as asthma," Galiatsatos said. 

But he says they learned it's not because kids don't know how to use and inhaler after a visit to Poe Homes in West Baltimore. 

"She discussed was what causes your asthma to flare up and the children identified the pollution in the house they identified the mold in the buildings and so forth. And that kind of insight for us physicians makes us recognize that a lot of the medications we offer are not going to do well when we are combating old homes, when we are combating air pollution with in a housing unit," Galiatsatos said. "That demands us to work with our patients and advocate with them for cleaner air, for helping get resources to help people quit smoking so the children can breath fresh air. That’s the kind of insight I would never get out of a clinic or out of a hospital, but being with the community, that’s how we can figure out what's going on."

Another cause fo absenteeism at some Baltimore City Schools is lice and more specifically, a misunderstanding about how to get rid of it, in part because of a language barrier. 

"A lot of the parents are Spanish speaking only so it was hard for them to understand the information that was given to them. That’s fine. We have our Spanish speaking nurse and our Spanish speaking physician," Galiatsatos said. 

MGG held an informational meeting at Armistead Gardens Elementary School a few weeks ago to talk about prevention, treatment and dispel common myths. 

"It was very well received adn they'd like us to come back," Galiatsatos said. 

They will replicate that meeting at Maree G. Farring Elementary School December 4th at 8:30 a.m. It's the first of many workshops school officials hope to organize to address the whole child and keep kids in the classroom. They say topics like self-care and illness prevention could really help decrease the amount of days kids are home sick and help families overcome obstacles like the lack of easy access to health care. 

"A common problem doesn’t mean it can be combated in common ways and that’s why we discovered these unique interventions of going out into the community, helping the community. That’s how we can make Baltimore City healthy," Galiatsatos said. 

They also plan to start a lung health initiative soon.