A Clarion Call for Action for School Health Centers
School health centers offer unique alternatives to the traditional medical office setting in providing health care for children and youth. If the health center is school-based, it is located right in the school facility. A student just takes a short walk down a school hallway and opens a door to a vast array of medical, mental health and health education services without ever leaving the building.
The benefits of school health centers are many. A wide range of age-appropriate health services is available to students who utilize the health centers. Preventive medicine services such as immunizations, physical exams and general health screening services may be offered. First aid, emergency care, diagnosis and treatment for acute illnesses are common visits. Chronic illness, such as asthma, may be medically managed on-site as well as reproductive health care needs as appropriate. Students may be evaluated in the health center and then return to class, reducing lost classroom time. Parents benefit, as they do not have to miss any valuable work time and have the peace of mind knowing that their child is receiving quality medical attention.
Generally, a multidisciplinary health care team staffs school health centers. Medical providers, such as physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, and medical assistants are available to the students. Social workers and health educators may also be vital members of the team to provide counseling and health education services to the students and their families.
I have been fortunate to be the project director of one such center, the School Health Center at New Dorp High School in Staten Island. Our School Health Center, affiliated with Staten Island University Hospital and principally funded by the NYC Department of Health, has been an integral part of the New Dorp High School Community for the past twelve years. Our staff has worked closely with school administration and faculty to try to meet the ever-changing needs of the students. Thousands of high school students have walked through our Center’s door since the Center’s inception, seeking comprehensive primary care, reproductive health, mental health and health education services. We provide an age-sensitive setting where adolescents feel comfortable seeking medical care.
We have helped students in times of tragedy, as on September 11th when many tearful students came to the Health Center anxiously looking for help in finding a parent, family member or loved one. We have watched, in times of happiness, many of our successful students graduate and live healthy lifestyles. Over the years, we have examined students for competitive sports teams. We have provided prevention and health promotion services to prepare the adolescents for healthy lifestyle choices. We have provided students with immunizations to stay in school and new admissions to start school. Our student community continues to expand globally with a number of our newly admitted students who are recent immigrants to the country. We help them negotiate the traditional health care system. We have provided health care for many of our students who otherwise would not be able to afford the services. For those lacking health insurance, we help provide information and assistance with applications for Child Health Plus.
School health centers operate with funding from several sources. The majority of school health centers are funded through government sources. Some receive partial funding from private organizations. It is imperative that continued financial support exists so that these vital school health centers operate at the same comprehensive level.
Improving access to health care for our children and youth remains a commitment and a goal. The school setting is the ideal place to break down any barriers to health care, whether they are physical or financial barriers. Financial support is necessary to ensure the continuation of our school health centers. The school community needs to remain committed to supporting the philosophy of school health centers.#