The case of an 8-year-old student tugged at the heart of Sally O'Donnell, and she tells the story to illustrate the need to educate people about evolving health care models, including "medical homes."

O'Donnell, a registered nurse, directs the School Health LINK for Rock Island County. She spoke Thursday at the Illinois Kids Count news conference to release the 2014 report, "Child Health Matters." 

The child O'Donnell mentioned entered school in August as a healthy third-grader, but he got strep throat two months later. By the time it was caught, the strep virus had settled in his ears, and he was temporarily deaf. He missed many days of school, and unsuspecting officials labeled him as needing special services with learning difficulties.

"His hearing loss would have been caught if he'd had a medical home," O'Donnell said.

Families, especially low-income families with no history of health insurance coverage, must be taught about the medical home and how it is an appropriate form of care for children, as well as their parents, she said.

"Medical home" is patient-centered, team-based care that is accessible and focused on safety, according to the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative.

Speakers at the news conference at Community Health Care Inc., Rock Island, emphasized that continuing education is needed to teach a general population how to use health care appropriately.

Dr. Mary Mariani, dental director at Community Health Care, advocated for dental care to be held in the same regard as medical care.

"We are lucky we live in a community with fluoridated water," she said, adding that the immigrant community, which came from countries without fluoridation, has more dental problems as a result.

The highest prevalence of oral disease occurs in lower-income families, and good oral health is an indication of success, Mariani said. A medical home that includes the family's doctor and dentist is the future for care providers, she added.

Get news headlines sent daily to your inbox

Here are highlights from the Illinois Kids Count survey, in data taken from 2006 to 2013. The survey years are different in most categories:

  • Health insurance: The proportion of children without health insurance in Rock Island County dropped from 9.5 percent in 2006 to 3.5 percent in 2011. In Illinois, the decline was from 10.2 percent to 4 percent.
  • Infant mortality: The rate in Rock Island County for 2007-09 was 8.2 per 1,000 live births; it was 6.9 per 1,000 statewide.
  • Child abuse and neglect: The average rate in Rock Island County was 15.5 per 1,000 children in 2011-13; statewide, the rate was 8.6. Neglect cases are 70-75 percent of what occurs in Rock Island County, said Sue Swisher of the Child Abuse Council, Rock Island. That problem can be addressed with education and other efforts, she pointed out. Still, a percent of cases are tracked to domestic abuse, and there are substantiated cases that are investigated by officials. According to Kids Count, the number of substantiated cases of abuse and neglect in Rock Island County grew by 4 percent from 2006-2011, while the cases increased 13 percent in the same time period across Illinois.
  • Child poverty rates: The Rock Island County rate declined from 22 percent in 2006 to 21 percent in 2011. In the same period in Illinois, the rate rose from 17 to 21 percent.
  • Child poverty population: During 2011-13, the number of children living in poverty in Rock Island County declined to 10 percent, while it increased 19 percent in all of Illinois.
  • Teen births: In 2009, 12.1 percent of all births in Rock Island County were teen births, compared with 9.6 percent in Illinois.

Tom Bowman, president and CEO of Community Health Care, said both Iowa and Illinois have a history of providing health insurance coverage to children, and that's been accelerated since the inception of the Affordable Care Act.

Bowman said the legislation, also known as Obamacare, now promotes health care for a whole family, as well as accessible and prevention-focused medical services.

"It encourages us to form good health habits, at an early age, and to teach us appropriate use of a health care system," Bowman said.