Category Archives: School-based health centers
It’s no secret that kids perform better in school when they are healthy and feel motivated to learn. But not all kids have access to the quality health care that can help them get healthy, stay healthy or treat any chronic health conditions they have. That’s where school-based health centers come in.
School-based health centers are partnerships between schools and community health organizations. They help students get the preventive care they need—including flu shots, annual physicals, dental exams, vision exams and mental health counseling—right where they spend most of their daytime hours: On school grounds. There are currently more than 2,000 school-based health centers across the country. Besides removing barriers to health care that many families face, school-based health centers help reduce inappropriate visits to emergency departments by up to 57 percent, research has found. They also help lower Medicaid expenditures, decrease student absences from school and do a better job of getting students with mental health issues the services they need.
Moreover, with growing recognition that health disparities affect academic achievement, school-based health clinics help close the gap by providing crucial access to health care for students who might not otherwise get it. A study by researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle, found that high school students who used school-based health centers experienced greater academic improvements over the course of five semesters than students who didn’t use these centers; the effect was especially pronounced among those who took advantage of mental-health services. Another study found that high school students who were moderate users of school-based health centers had a 33 percent lower dropout rate in an urban setting that has a high dropout rate.
The exact services offered by these centers vary by community. At Santa Maria High School in Santa Maria, Calif., the health center’s offerings include crisis intervention sessions; a grief group for students dealing with loss; and ongoing opportunities for students to build important social skills and skills that will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle. In Oakland, Calif., the Native American Health Center offered at a middle school and a high school provides medical care, dental care, mental health services and a peer health education program in one setting. At the Maranacook Health Center in central Maine, kids can get support for chronic health problems (such as asthma, diabetes, or seizures), medications they need, counseling or other mental-health evaluations and services.
The ultimate goal behind these centers is for all children to enjoy and benefit from good health and school success.
“Children and adolescents are at the heart of the mission,” said John Schlitt, president of the School-Based Health Alliance, based in Washington, D.C. But the “scope of the health center’s influence extends beyond the clinic walls to the entire school, its inhabitants, climate, curriculum, and policies. The school is transformed as a hub for community health improvement.”
Every two weeks the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ) releases an Innovations Exchange newsletter in order to share innovative health practices from around the country that can be adapted by other communities. The Innovations Exchange supports the Agency's mission to improve the quality of health care and reduce disparities.
The current issue focuses on school-based programs for youth at risk. According to AHRQ, many adolescents—particularly those in minority and low-income communities—lack access to health information, preventive care, and clinical services, leaving them at risk for untreated physical and mental health issues. School-based health care delivery, according to AHRQ, can improve access to care and address the needs of this vulnerable population.
The featured innovations for at risk youth include:
- A school-based program to reduce type 2 diabetes risk factors for children and young adults;
- An inner city school district's reproductive health services model;
- A school-based health center that improved access to mental health services, particularly for minorities.
The newsletter also features quality tools that schools can use to support HIV and STD prevention programs in schools and to facilitate school-based preventive, mental health, nutrition, and oral health services.
>>Read the latest issue of the AHRQ Innovations Exchange.
The use of school-based health services has gained momentum and recognition across the United States as a unique tool in the fight to prevent poor outcomes in both health and education, especially among vulnerable populations. When last surveyed in 2008, the number of school-based or school-linked health clinics in the U.S. had surpassed 1,900. Recently, the federal government has acknowledged their potential, too, creating a distinct grant program for school-based health centers as part of ACA and recognizing them as providers in the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act. [Read more on school-based health center policy developments.]
The typical school-based health center (SBHC) provides free or low-cost basic physical and mental health services, and sometimes oral and vision care. They’ve been shown to reduce asthma-related ER visits and hospitalization costs; reach greater numbers of racial minorities, especially young men; and increase the likelihood by 10 to 20 times that a student uses mental health services. But, the conversation at the American Public Health Association annual meetings was focused on the unique effects these centers are having on students and communities beyond the clinic walls.
Youth Successfully Influencing Their Peers
One session on youth as public health champions covered how receiving services directly on campus involves youth in their own health and the health of their peers in a powerful way. Kathleen Gutierrez from the California School Health Centers Association highlighted innovative ways in which California’s SBHCs are utilizing youth as messengers.
A group of professionally-attired policy-makers, influencers and public health professionals in Washington started their day this morning the way students at Namaste Charter School in Chicago do every day—doing upper and lower body exercises and stretches to make physical activity the first learning component of their school day. The Washingtonians—and some key education and health officials from around the country—were at the launch of “Health in Mind,” a project of the Healthy Schools Campaign and Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) that has released actionable recommendations focused on improving student learning and achievement through healthier schools. The recommendations were presented at today’s event to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
“Unless we address health and wellness in schools, our nation’s efforts to close the achievement gap will be compromised,” said Rochelle Davis, president and CEO of the Healthy Schools Campaign, a national group that has focused on improving food and fitness in Chicago public schools.
Health in Mind aligns with the National Prevention Strategy introduced two years ago by the National Prevention and Health Promotion Council, which brings together 17 federal cabinet offices and agencies. The Strategy commits the entire federal government, not just the health agencies, to integrate health into their work and make a healthier nation a priority across sectors.
“The Strategy and these recommendations represent a major culture shift in how the nation views health—health will no longer be separated from education, transportation, housing and other clearly connected policies,” said Jeff Levi, executive director of TFAH and chair of the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative and Public Health. “Health in Mind’s focus on students and schools promises to have a long-term payoff by improving education and quality of life for today’s kids as they grow up—they will do better in school and be healthier.”