Healthcare on Campus
It’s hard to ace, much less pass, an algebra test with a pesky cold. But for some students, accessing care for that cold isn’t as easy as telling someone they don’t feel well. That’s where Oregon’s school-based health centers come in.
Students at Milwaukie High School have all the access they need. Its Health and Wellness Center, among 65 school based centers across the state, offers all the services found at a physician’s office -- comprehensive preventive, primary, and mental healthcare – for free.
Not all such centers are alike. “Once you’ve seen one school-based health center, you’ve seen one school-based health center,” said Michael Ralls, assistant principal at Milwaukie High, calling his center one of the most functional and comprehensive in Oregon.
Ralls spearheaded the project having been an English teacher and a school counselor. “My job (as a counselor) was to connect families and students to resources, but there were no resources.”
Believing that healthy kids learn better, he helped create a one-stop shop for healthcare resources in the school itself.
And his dedication has paid off. One student, who preferred not to share her name, considers it a privilege to have such a center on campus.
“I always get the help or things I need when I’m there,” she said. “I got glasses last year and it changed everything. I wouldn’t be happy or healthy without it.”
In opening its center, Outside In, a federally qualified health clinic, agreed to become the medical sponsor. The school district also received a $50,000 grant from Swindell’s Charitable Trust, a $50,000 grant from Clackamas County Health H3S, and Outside In received a federal Health Resources and Services Administration New Access Point grant, a 10-year operational grant worth $500,000 per year.
Today, Milwaukie High’s campus has three exam rooms, five offices, one conference room, and a full lab. Working on the site are a full-time site coordinator, clinic coordinator, medical assistant, nurse practitioner, two mental health therapists, and a part-time health and wellness coordinator and dental hygienist
Last year, the center saw 500 individual clients for a total of 1,500 visits. While services are free, Medicaid is billed and if possible, private insurance, to help the center recoup costs and create more sustainable programming. Forty percent of visits in 2013 were billed to Medicaid, 10 percent to private insurance and 50 percent were uninsured.
To help students who are uninsured, an enrollment coordinator with NW Family Services visits the center weekly.
“Now that families are learning that insurance is available and that the enrollment coordinator is there to help, insurance enrollments have gone up,” said Kristine Kingstadt, full-time site coordinator for the Health and Wellness Center.
Dental services became available last year, and the center will begin offering restorative dental care later this year. “It’s better to do it right than to do it fast,” Ralls noted.
Because it’s been so successful, the center is expanding services to students at nearby Rowe Middle School.
But the goalpost goes beyond offering medical care -- creating a culture of health is just as important. Milwaukie High recently hired a part-time health and wellness coordinator position, funded by a two-year $90,000 Hallways to Health Grant from Kaiser Permanente
To spread the word about health and wellness, students participate in the center’s youth advisory council. This year, they’re involved with Breaking Down the Walls, to create a positive and supportive school climate. A blood drive and all-school fitness event are in the planning stages.
“We have extremely motivated students,” Kingstadt said.
Ralls attributed the center’s success to the collaboration of staff, students, the community, and other non-profits. “It’s been a lot of smart people working together.”
The Oregon Legislature recently approved expansion funding for school-based health centers, including $4.6 million to strengthen existing centers and to expand services, $750,000 in innovation grants and $3.6 million in mental health grants. Milwaukie High receives $53,000 from the state. Also, the Affordable Care Act provided $200 million from fiscal years 2010 – 2013 for the School-Based Health Center Capital Program, and Oregon’s centers received over $7 million of those funds.
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Joanne can be reached at [email protected].