Article by Juliet Porton published in the February 2014 issue of NorthBayBiz Magazine.
The newest catchphrase in medicine, “patient-centered care,” really boils down to one thing: making access to quality health care as streamlined and intuitive as possible. And when the goal is expanding health care to underserved young people, there’s nothing more intuitive than bringing that care to exactly where they are and where we want them to stay: school.
The school-based health center is an idea that’s quietly gaining traction at schools across the country. Straight from those on the front lines of making health care and health education available to young people, here’s a look at what school-based health centers are, how they’re funded, and why the model is taking hold in the North Bay.
The School-Based Health Center Model
School-based health centers (SBHCs) are often the result of partnerships between schools or school boards and community health organizations, such as local health centers, hospitals or county health departments. Each is designed to meet the specific needs of the community it serves. Some are just for students, while others are available to the wider community at specific times. Schools may be responsible only for providing the space for a portable building or may supply unused classroom space and cover custodial and utility costs (with the affiliated health organization covering other costs).
Because these clinics are located on school campuses, local school boards act as the ultimate decision makers on what services are provided. In California, 84 percent of SBHCs offer primary medical services like check-ups and vaccinations, 58 percent offer mental health services and 62 percent offer reproductive health screenings and education. Other services may include dental care, health education and fitness programs. This variety of resources often helps take the stigma out of going to school clinics for some students, as they can be the place to get a sports physical, take a cooking class or seek emotional support during a tough time.
The Growth of SBHCs
The increase in SBHCs began in the 1980s, as cash-strapped schools increasingly had to write school nurses and counselors out of their budgets. Most often found in areas with higher poverty rates and lower rates of insured residents, SBHCs were seen as a way to deliver vital medical care to populations that would otherwise go without.
By 1995, the School-Based Health Alliance was formed to address the shared concerns and needs of these health centers nationwide. The California School-Based Health Alliance (CSBHA), formerly known as California School Health Center Association, was later created in Oakland to provide support and advocacy for SBHCs in California.
“Through our policy work in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., we try to generate resources and support for school-based health centers,” says Serena Clayton, executive director of CSBHA. “We also work at the community level to bring school and clinic staffs together to address the on-the-ground issues that need to be worked out to actually make clinics successful.”