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Pediatric clinic inside Verdun school will stay open thanks to donation

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A pediatric clinic inside Verdun Elementary School was at risk of closing, but thanks to a private donation, its doors will now stay open.

The Heart & Hands Pediatric Clinic has been operating out of the school on Desmarchais Blvd. for the last five years.

"This area is a bit of a health-care desert. Certainly for children it is," said Dr. Geoffrey Dougherty, a pediatrician with the Montreal Children's Hospital and supervising physician at the Heart & Hands Pediatric Clinic.

Dougherty said it's the only clinic of its kind in the province. During the school year, children come from several schools in the area.

It employs part-time pediatricians and other health-care professionals, including a nurse, dieticians and speech therapists.

"To have access to medical care really within the community is incredibly special. It's, I think, probably broken down walls that maybe we didn't even realize were there," said Lori McKergow, the principal of Verdun Elementary School.

The clinic, a collaboration between The Montreal Children’s Hospital, The Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation, and the Lester B. Pearson School Board, has survived on a shoestring budget, surviving on donated resources and funds.

Its future was uncertain, but now, thanks to a $1.6-million donation from the Just for Kids Foundation, the clinic can stay open for the next decade. It will now be official known as the Just for Kids Foundation Heart & Hands Pediatric Clinic.

"It was really important for us because there are so many underserved children in this community," said Marissa Frishman, president of the Just for Kids Foundation. "We wanted to make sure that every child gets the care that they need and that they deserve."

The clinic can diagnose various health, behavioural and learning issues early.

Many families faced barriers to accessing and navigating the health-care system, said Dougherty.

"So very frequently, when we see a kid for the first time, there's all kinds of unmet needs, issues that have received no attention and have not been diagnosed," he explained.

It's also making a world of difference in how the school's students thrive. The hope is that clinics like this could one day be the norm in Quebec.

"I would say that it would definitely be a bonus for every single family out there to have this kind of access to resources to people," said McKergow.

Just for Kids Foundation Heart & Hands Pediatric Clinic said plans are already being made to open a second clinic. 

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