- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

A California weight-loss boarding school said it is planning to set up a similar institution on the East Coast after reaching its student limit in one year.

The Academy of the Sierras recently enrolled 74 students, four more than the original capacity the school had planned when it opened last September.

“It’s been great so far,” said Ryan Craig, executive director for the private school, which costs $5,500 a month per student. The Reedley, Calif., school is in the initial phase of expanding to the East, although he did not know where the school would be located.

Only 20 of the 60 students who have enrolled in the school have left with the academy’s seal of approval, Mr. Craig said. Those students will get follow-up counseling with the academy while those who left sooner than the school advised will not.

“They did not have our clinical blessing to leave. We have to focus on the students who completed the program,” Mr. Craig said, citing homesickness and high tuition bills as the main reasons students have left early.

Health insurers have covered up to one-third of a student’s tuition but long-term results could increase coverage, said Aspen Education Group Inc., the company that runs the college preparatory school.

So far, 23 students who have attended one full semester, or 28 weeks, lost an average 85 pounds, with some teens heading home from the school nearly 100 pounds lighter.

The school, which runs year-round, keeps students until they have reached a “normal weight range” and are prepared to maintain their new weight when they return home.

The academy, 25 miles southeast of Fresno, Calif., enrolls teens aged 13 to 18 who are at least 30 pounds overweight. Students on average carry an extra 70 to 80 pounds. It is considered to be the only weight-loss boarding school in the nation.

Health technology push

Electronic medical record systems could save the U.S. health care system $142 billion to $371 billion over a 15-year period if widely adopted, according to a report released this week.

If 90 percent of American doctors and hospitals successfully set up a system that could send patient records to other systems, they could save the health industry up to $77 billion annually, said the study by the Rand Corp., a Santa Monica, Calif., nonprofit public-policy group.

While the industry and federal government have called for a universal system, none has been installed, primarily because of the high cost of investing in the technology.

The Rand study estimated hospitals would spend $98 billion and physicians about $17 billion to install the system.

The report comes as doctors nationwide cite problems with assessing the health of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast last month.

“We have received many reports from family physicians as far away as Massachusetts and California who are hampered in their efforts to provide high-quality care for Katrina victims because they do not have the patients’ medical histories and medication lists,” said Mary Frank, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The Leawood, Kan., group, which represents 94,000 doctors, said the natural disaster may force the health care industry to finally adopt a universal standard for transmitting and receiving medical-record files.

The “Health Care” column runs every Friday. Call Marguerite Higgins at 202/636-4892.

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