School-Based Health Centers Help Make Education Happen | February 2019
February is National School-Based Health Care Awareness Month. Without receiving much attention, the integration of School-Based Health Centers into West Virginia schools over the last decade has proven extremely effective. By providing easy access to basic, but often absent, health care services, more students are showing up to class healthy and ready to learn. Healthier children make better students, which is a fundamental mission of these centers. One could even say that School-Based Health Centers help make education happen in the Mountain State.
School-Based Health Centers are like a doctor’s office located in a school or on school grounds. With parental consent, these centers provide services like age-appropriate well-child exams, immunizations, diagnosis and treatment of acute illness and injury, chronic disease management, basic laboratory services, health education and guidance, nutrition counseling, basic mental health services, substance-use disorder services, violence prevention education and intervention, and oral health care. Children generally receive these services regardless of their family’s ability to pay since the School-Based Health Center is part of a local Community Health Center.
At their core, these School-Based Health Centers are a partnership between the local Community Health Center, the affiliated school system, and participating parents – all working together to make sure kids get what they need to be healthier, more successful students. And because these centers are located on campus, health care providers are given the opportunity to work directly and cooperatively with school officials and administrators to become an integral part of the school’s environment.
School-Based Health Centers ensure that students of all ages can get a flu shot, have an annual physical, learn to better manage their asthma or diabetes, or report instances of abuse in a safe, nurturing place. They reside at the intersection of health and education, and are vital to keeping our children from falling through the cracks when it comes to their personal health care needs. These centers provide important care – primary care, mental health and counseling services, family outreach, and chronic disease management – while overcoming traditional barriers faced by so many families, such as a lack of transportation or the inability to get time off from work, by performing the necessary services where the students already happen to be: at school.
Additionally, most School-Based Health Centers provide services to school personnel, including teachers, administrators, service personnel, and bus drivers. Notably, the availability of such services can reduce absenteeism among teachers, who no longer need to miss work for routine medical care. This ensures that our kids receive the highest and most consistent level of instruction when they are at school.
In West Virginia, there are 169 School-Based Health Centers, located across 40 counties, and operated by 22 different Community Health Center organizations. Seventy-five of those sites offer critical behavioral health services, which might otherwise be unavailable. In total, over 83,000 West Virginians are being served through local School-Based Health Centers.
School-Based Health Centers do not replace the role of the school nurse or the child’s primary care provider. Rather, they work together with these medical professionals to maximize the child’s level of care. According to studies cited by the national School-Based Health Alliance, School-Based Health Centers decrease absenteeism and tardiness, reduce behavior and discipline problems, save money by reducing the number of unnecessary emergency room visits, and attract harder-to-reach populations, especially minorities and males, who might otherwise go unserved by traditional health care systems. The centers may also serve as the child’s primary medical home, with the option of referrals to the local Community Health Center for services that are not appropriate for the school setting.
Perhaps most importantly, School-Based Health Centers actively involve students as responsible participants in their own health care. While still encouraging the role of parents and other family members, as appropriate, the centers provide a scope of services consistent with identified health care needs, including preventive care that is often otherwise neglected. By learning to participate in their own care at an early age, students lay the foundation to become health-conscious adults.
In the end, School-Based Health Centers might very well be the tool that helps change West Virginia’s concerning health statistics. As we all have heard so many times, our state ranks near the bottom in nearly all of the important national health indicators. However, I feel encouraged in knowing that there are so many School-Based Health Centers throughout West Virginia, working hard to teach our future generations a better, healthier way to live. In the meantime, we should all be thankful that these centers are out there, making sure that students and teachers alike have what they need to give their best each and every school day, and helping make education happen in the Mountain State.
The West Virginia Primary Care Association is the largest organized primary care network in the state.
This Op-Ed originally ran in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on February 28, 2019 and is available here.
WVPCA Selected for PRAPARE Train the Trainer Academy | July 2018
The West Virginia Primary Care Association and two WV Health Centers - Williamson Health & Wellness Center and Valley Health Systems - are pleased to announce that they have been chosen by the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) to participate in Round 2 of the PRAPARE Train the Trainer Academy. The Academy will consist of free training and technical assistance to implement the Protocol for Responding to and Assessing Patients' Assets, Risks, and Experiences (PRAPARE) in the chosen health centers. Along with the training and technical assistance from NACHC, the WVPCA and health center staff will have the opportunity to learn from health centers and PCAs across the country who have successfully implemented PRAPARE. Health Centers and PCAs are using the data to define and document the increased complexity of their patients, transform care with integrated services and community partnerships to meet the needs of their patients, advocate for change in their communities, and demonstrate the value they bring to patients, communities, and payers. The Academy will be a year-long learning and implementation program with the goal to assist other West Virginia Health Centers with PRAPARE assessments and utilizing the data to improve outcomes.
PRAPARE is a national effort to help health centers and other providers collect the data needed to better understand and act on their patients' social determinants of health. As providers are increasingly held accountable for reaching population health goals while reducing costs, it is important that they have tools and strategies to identify the upstream socioeconomic drivers of poor outcomes and higher costs.
PRAPARE has been a multi-year effort between NACHC, the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, the Oregon Primary Care Association, and the Institute for Alternative Futures, along with a group of pioneer health centers and health center networks in Hawaii, Iowa, New York, and Oregon. PRAPARE was supported with funding from the Kresge Foundation, the Blue Shield of California Foundation, and the Kaiser Permanente National Community Benefit Fund at the Easy Bay Community Foundation.