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School is Where the Health (Care) Is

Photo: Wanda Marshall and Abigail Aukema at the grand opening of a new SBHC at Place Bridge Academy, a Denver Public School. Courtesy: Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care.
Photo: Wanda Marshall and Abigail Aukema at the grand opening of a new SBHC at Place Bridge Academy, a Denver Public School. Courtesy: Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care.
October 8, 2012

DENVER - We're heading into the "flu season." According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the influenza bug can start spreading as early as October. However, now many Colorado kids now have a place to go when they get sick: school.

The Colorado Health Foundation launched a nearly $11 million campaign to help develop school health clinics. Deborah Costin, executive director of the Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care, says this is not the nurse's office of yesteryear.

"The provider working in the school-based health center has prescriptive authority - a school nurse does not have the authority to prescribe. The provider in a school-based health center not only diagnoses, but also treats."

There are now 20 new school-based clinics across the state, thanks to the CHF funds. They offer a vast array of services, including dental care, wellness exams, injury or disease treatment - and even psychological care. The Colorado Health Report Card found that almost one in 10 Colorado children has no health insurance coverage.

Another benefit the school clinics offer: The service is provided at no cost to uninsured kids, and the centers help needy families apply for Medicaid and CHP-plus for outside-school care. Costin says it's also confidential and open to all kids in the school.

"The kids enter the door, but no one sitting in the waiting room knows what they're there for. They don't know if they're there for a toothache or depression."

Costin says mental health is a big area the clinics are treating.

"Honestly, I think the need has been there; it's just now being recognized, due to better access to care."

She says another advantage is that parents don't get pulled out of work to take their child to the doctor if there is a schooltime injury or illness. The centers not only give kids more access to health care, she adds, but also lower absenteeism, which may help them do better in school.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO