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School-Based Clinics Help WA Students Succeed

Clinics in schools that can address both physical and mental-health issues can lower absenteeism and improve student outcomes. (Leonid/Adobe Stock)
Clinics in schools that can address both physical and mental-health issues can lower absenteeism and improve student outcomes. (Leonid/Adobe Stock)
July 24, 2019

SEATTLE - Some Washington state students going back to school this year will have more than a school nurse as a health resource.

School-based health centers provide a variety of care, including mental-health therapy, physical exams and even dental care. The clinics already are prominent in King County schools, and the movement is growing in other parts of the state.

Jill Patnode, Thriving Schools program manager for Kaiser Permanente, said health access is an essential part of success at school.

"School and health - there is a huge point of intersection between the two," she said, "and so, from the education lens, when you have students that are not healthy - they have a toothache, they're sick - they honestly are not in a place where they can learn."

Patnode said the school-based health-centers model allows kids to get the care they need without causing a major interruption to their school day. She noted that mental and physical health clinics in schools can lower absenteeism and improve student outcomes, according to studies. Over the next three years, she said, Kaiser is providing $1.2 million in startup grants to open clinics in Spanaway and Spokane schools.

Dr. Gina Sucato, Kaiser's medical director of school-based health centers, said these centers' ability to address disparities in health-care access is one of their most important features.

"The presence of school-based health centers improves health outcomes for all students - but most especially for those who are traditionally underserved by the medical and mental-health communities," she said, "because in these school-based health centers, services are available to all students, regardless of their ability to pay."

Patnode said state lawmakers are looking at supporting school-based centers, and there is energy building in the health and education worlds to make these clinics more common.

"If we can bring the health services to students in schools," she said, "we can really contribute to graduation rates and post-secondary completion."

Disclosure: Kaiser Health Plan of Washington Project contributes to our fund for reporting on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Health Issues, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA