Equal Voice News: Illinois Teenagers Win Greater Access to Medical Care

Teenagers in Illinois – especially those who are homeless – have won a policy victory in accessing medical care at public schools, following state legislative approval giving them the power to consent to non-emergency injuries and illnesses.

House Bill 4501 cleared the Illinois state Senate on May 21 and it permits unaccompanied teenagers, ages 14 to 18, to receive medical attention for various cases and conditions, including asthma, strep throat and sprained ankles, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) reported.

In April, the legislation won approval in the Illinois state House of Representatives.

The bill, which is expected to be signed into law, will help an estimated 10,000 minors in the state who are living on their own, as well as other youth who lacked parental or guardian consent or contact information.

Health clinic staff who work at Chicago Public Schools were turning away teenage students because of this legal requirement and district staff contacted CCH for assistance.

“It became clear to us that there is a lot of frustration,” Graham Bowman, an attorney who works for CCH, said in a blog post on the group’s website.

“Health care professionals ready to treat sick kids had to turn away minors who lacked a parent or guardian to sign their consent form,” he said. “They had to stand by as kid got sicker from easily-treatable conditions, like strep throat or asthma.”

Many minors leave homes because there is a lack of stability or the household is dangerous and neglect and abuse are present, according to CCH.

Medical access in these cases is also declined to teenagers in the state because the youth are unaware of where a parent or guardian is living. In some cases, the youth-adult relationship has become strained.

In one case, Bowman said, a 17-year-old with an injured ankle, was unable to get treatment at a school-based clinic even though she was working as a waitress at night and supporting herself.

In March, Telva Urban, a nurse practitioner, told Illinois state lawmakers about experiences she had with the law when she was helping at a Chicago school program for teenagers. “I am unable to give a client Benadryl for a mild allergic rash,” she said.

The approved legislation, CCH said, does not change limitations on medical services that already exist.

The bill also will allow for a teenage in Illinois to invite a trusted friend or adult to accompany them to the appointment and provide help. Health care providers, CCH noted, need to work with organizations that help homeless young people or those who are unaccompanied to identify eligible minors.

More than 20 groups supported the bill, which won unanimous approval in the Illinois state Senate and Illinois state House of Representatives.

When the bill is signed into law, Illinois will join 16 other states – including Texas, Indiana and California – that have similar legislation.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization, works on public policies that seek to end homelessness.