School-Based Healthcare Takes off in Eastern Oregon

A cross section of government, schools and health companies are working in Eastern Oregon to give students better access to physical, mental and dental healthcare.

Partnerships between the InterMountain Education Service District, the Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc., county officials, local schools and various CCOs are paving the way for health services at schools like dental care and mental health counseling. The schools are creating “Wellness Hubs” designed to make sure all students access to healthcare.

Seventeen school districts spread across Umatilla, Morrow and Union counties are participating, some at different stages of implementation, said ESD Superintendent Mark Mulvihill.

“We’ve done a lot of really, really good academic programs for our kids of poverty, but the bottom line is truancy, dysfunction at home, issues of poverty, health… we can’t do that as a school system,” Mulvihill said, adding the schools are reaching out to people in the community and health insurers to make quality healthcare accessible.

“We’re going to build it where the kids and the families are,” he said.

The wellness hubs include four services: basic health (everything from head lice to helping parents fill out paperwork), oral health, mental health and nursing coordination.

The schools are at various stages, but Umatilla County is charging forward, implementing a pilot program and hiring a nursing coordinator who will work at Milton-Freewater and Umatilla schools.

Meghan DeBolt, director of Umatilla County Health, said schools in her county have been looking for years to provide better health services for students.

“They recognize their higher risk students don’t have access to services,” she said. “That, in turn, makes it so that they are not in school, healthy and learning.”

The nursing coordinator is expected to streamline and provide direct services such as referring a student with a belly ache to a doctor and providing urgent care on site if necessary.

But Umatilla is still feeling its way around school-based healthcare.

“We really need to take our time and take baby steps,” said DeBolt, pointing out that Umatilla County has the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state. Her goal is to engage the community through public meetings to determine where the needs are.

“What that looks like to the community in terms of intervention looks differently for everyone,” she said.

Shelby can be reached at [email protected].

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