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What Are School Based Health Centers?

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Charles Fazio

August 4, 2021

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what are school based health centers

Access to health care can be complex when it comes to finding a primary care physician for your child.

Many health centers only offer medical appointments during school days, and often times office location can be a long commute from the school campus or home. 

With hectic work schedules, children being at school during most medical center hours, and not wanting your child’s learning path to fall behind due to a missed day of school, getting your child the healthcare that they desperately need may be a challenge. 

School Based Health Centers (SBHCs) are a powerful solution for a complex healthcare problem that transcends unjust disparities due to race, ethnicity, and family income. These healthcare centers offer services to students such as primary care services, dental services, nutrition education, behavioral health care, and vision care, which helps create an equal opportunity for growth and development. 

How Long Have SBHCs Existed?

School Based Health Centers (SBHCs) originated in the late 1980s. From humble beginnings with a reported 200 SBHCs in 1990, 2017 census data has identified 2,584 SBHCs present in 48 U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. 

The benefit of these medical care centers strongly aligns with the World Health Organization (WHO) ideologies, which includes that the “goal of health care systems include increasing not only the level of health in the population but also the level of responsiveness in the health system to the legitimate expectations and needs of people”.

SBHCs answer this calling by providing much needed health education services to an underserved population of children and adolescents. 

In most cases, they are staffed by a multidisciplinary team of nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, mental health care, social workers, and other supporting staff members.

Supporting Underserved Populations

One of the main driving aspects behind SBHCs is to make culturally competent services such as primary care, preventive, care and behavioral health services available to students who do not have alternative means to access health centers. 

With the quality of care expanding far beyond the typical school nurse, these comprehensive services are key for the healthy development of adolescents who are uninsured or lack other means of health care access. 

Increased health equity is achieved through the collaboration of healthcare providers, being able to tackle complex health and social issues. One of the primary goals of School Based Health Centers is elevated educational outcomes for students who are involved.

Importance of Preventive Medicine

Some SBHCs place extra importance in educating adolescents about preventive medicine and behaviors that may help lead to a healthier adulthood. Risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, unhealthy diet, tobacco usage, inadequate physical activity, and risky sexual behavior leading to sexually transmitted diseases or unintended pregnancy.

What Type of Care Will Children Receive?

Typically, students enrolled in a SBHC will receive the same care as at a doctors office, with a nurse practitioner. Often times these services vary based on local needs, ranging from one to two professionals offering basic care and checkups, while others may offer a full package of multidisciplinary services. Some large SBHC programs have dietitians, drug counselors, mental health services, primary care physicians, doctors, and medical students on staff.

Services that are offered may include:

  • Reproductive health services, contraception, pregnancy testing 
  • Treatment of STD & STI
  • Treatment for allergies and asthma
  • Dental care
  • Vaccinations including annual flu vaccine
  • Mental health counseling, treatment of behavioral health issues
  • Acute sickness treatment such as flu, strep throat, and viral infections
  • Sports physicals, well child examinations, and annual physical examinations
  • Preventive care checkups for chronic conditions 
  • Specialist referrals
  • Counseling for mental health and emotional issues such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, stress, and more
  • Emergency care for acute injuries

How Much Do School Based Health Centers Cost?

SBHC services are often offered on sliding scale based on family income. Depending on your specific situation care may be available for you at not cost out of pocket.

If you are located in the Denver area and your child attends Denver Public School (DPS) campuses, all services are provided at not cost to the families. Some of the specific services that are offered in Denver Public Schools are: medical, mental health, dental, health education, family planning, as well as insurance advising and enrollment services.

How Do I Enroll My Child In A SBHC?

Looking at Denver schools specifically, parents must sign parental consent forms before their child can see school health care providers. Once registration is completed, students may receive school health services at any time during the school year.

In Denver, students in grades 6 to 12 are allowed to visit school-based health clinics alone, younger children can be seen alone if pre approved by a parent at request of a school staff member.

Colorado State Law allows students, if requested, to consent themself to confidential services. Confidential services include behavioral health and sexual health services. 

How Are Parents Informed About Their Child's Health?

The idea of school-based health care can be daunting for parents, because visits occur during school outside of the parents control.  Some SBHCs use methods such as phone, email, video chat, and allowing in person participation during the child’s appointment.

In cases when the parent is unable to receive feedback live, they are still communicated with through follow ups in the form of written letters, notes on secure websites, phone calls, or in some cases house visits. 

Are SBHC's Right For My Child?

If you face financial difficulty, lack of insurance status, or issues finding time with a busy work schedule to take your child to your local primary care provider, SBHC’s may be the right choice for you. This system may align with your desired academic outcomes and primary health care access goals.

When considering enrollment into a SBHC, it is best to contact your local public school district to find out specific details such as services offered as well as program history and effectiveness.

South Pointe Healthcare Difference

South Pointe Healthcare offers an incredible selection of health care services all under the same roof. If you or your child need primary care, physical therapy, chiropractic, or mental health care, do not hesitate to give us a call at (303) 665-8444 to schedule an appointment. 

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*The material contained in this blog post is for general information purposes only. You should not rely on the material or information in this article to make any diagnosis or healthcare decision. Any healthcare decision that you make should be brought up with and agreed upon in conjunction with your primary care provider. South Pointe Healthcare at Coal Creek LLC in no circumstances is liable to any party for damages that may occur directly or indirectly from information or material contained in this article.