School-based health center opportunity expanded (Guest column)
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Mental health crises, suicide dangers, school safety issues and general physical health concerns have been increasing at Oregon schools over the past decade. These challenges are impacting attendance, driving down student success in the classroom, and stunting graduation rates.
The Legislature has taken notice. House Bill 3165 in 2019 created 10 planning grants to support the creation of school-based health centers.
The certified centers staffed by a primary care professional and other medical and support staff offer a range of services, including mental health supports. They are created through school district partnerships with the Oregon Public Health Division, county health departments, public and private practitioners, and tribes, parents, students and community members.
Oregon schools have had these health centers for more than three decades, but only in the past few years have they moved into the 21st century. New guidelines ensure that all school-based health centers use electronic medical records, bill Medicaid and private insurance, and address key factors affecting youth health. Funding comes from outside the State School Fund, and billing typically pays for three-quarters of the cost of the health centers.
This expansion opened the door for up to 10 districts to use the state certification program to apply to join the 81 existing centers. At least six must use the traditional “full service” model. But the program was updated to allow for smaller or more rural districts to apply to start with a smaller footprint, such as a mental and behavioral health focus through a school nurse coordinator. These projects would have five years to ramp up to a full-fledged school-based health center.
Oregon data prove the centers result in higher academic achievement, higher graduation rates, lower mental health issues and suicides, and a more equitable culture. The centers and their youth councils also focus on issues such as bullying, drug and alcohol use, and school wide concerns.
The Oregon Health Authority closed their first grant application process this fall and is near announcement of successful round one applications. Schools that didn’t have the opportunity to apply this time may have another bite at the apple, as the Legislature is being urged to add a handful of additional opportunities in 2020.
The effort dovetails with the Student Success Act and its district-directed funding model. The centers address the act’s key goals by increasing health equity and offering help for students’ mental and behavioral needs, according to a 2019 Oregon Health Authority report.