Bainbridge’s Virginia Mason Medical Center has been awarded a $20,000 grant by the state Department of Health to work on plans for a teen health center at Bainbridge High School. According to Nancy Klein, DOH Health Services Consultant, DOH hopes to be able to provide additional funding for operations next year.
Virginia Mason was one of eleven applicants to receive the grant, given to support school-based health centers throughout the state. VM prepared and submitted the application in partnership with Bainbridge High School, with assistance from the Teen Clinic Advocacy Group, an informal assembly of parents and community members.
Work on the project began two years ago, around the time the BHS newspaper reported that eleven students had gotten pregnant in a single school year. According to Cyndy Salisbury, coordinator for the Advocacy Group, the report was inaccurate. She says the students had expressed concerns about pregnancy, but were not actually pregnant.
Nevertheless, the scare was evidence that students need education and health care resources. The resulting conversations among parents, teachers and health care providers led to the creation of the Advocacy Group and preliminary plans for a clinic on campus.
Salisbury says the group visited similar clinics in Seattle, and found that reproductive health visits are only a small portion of traffic in school-based clinics. Most visits were for ordinary health concerns like headaches, strep throat tests, and sports physicals. Currently, the BHS school nurse isn’t allowed to administer even over-the-counter medicine like Ibuprofen, says Salisbury.
According to Salisbury, the operations of the clinic will be funded through grants and third party billing to insurance. The school district will provide space for the clinic on the BHS campus, and the school nurse will maintain her office there. Otherwise, the district will not provide any money, staff time, oversight or any other resources to the clinic, which is intended to be operated as a satellite office of the Virginia Mason Clinic.
At the beginning of each school year, parents will be asked to give written permission to allow their children to use the health care services. Under the terms of the grant documents, best practices for school-based clinics require that students have access to services regardless of ability to pay.
The clinic will be home to four full-time employees, including a nurse practitioner, a mental health counselor, the school nurse and an office assistant. The clinic is not intended as a primary care facility and students will be referred to their own doctors for follow-up care.
Salisbury think the mental health counselor is a key addition to health care services for teens. She believes the clinic will be able to cross-refer students between its physical and mental health caregivers. For instance, if a student comes in with headaches several times a week, the nurse practitioner might refer that student to the counselor, who may discover that the headaches are caused by stress or other mental or emotional concern, Salisbury says.
Salisbury acknowledges that most island families have health insurance and their own physicians. But, she says, “The problem on the island is not resources. It’s access.” She says her group has found that about two-thirds of high school students know how to obtain health care without assistance. But in a school the size of BHS, the 20-30% of students who do not amounts to several hundred kids who are unable to access their own health care.
Plus, teens often forego health care if they must plan for an appointment outside of their normal routine. Clinic personnel can make appointments for kids and track the follow-up to make sure the student is getting needed care. Salisbury says that by being on campus, the clinic staff can become health care mentors, and build relationships that will encourage more students to seek help when they need it.
The grant will be funded from March through September, and will allow the planning groups to work on the details for the clinic. The Advocacy Group reports its progress to the School Board quarterly. The clinic is expected to open in 2009.