Farewell, flip-flops and sunscreen. Hello, backpacks and No. 2 pencils. La Plata County youths head back to school this week. School-Based Health Centers are part of this transition, providing easy access for students to get the care they need, when and where they need it.
SBHCs provide physical, behavioral and oral health care to students from ages 2 to 21. According to the Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care, there are now 54 SBHCs in Colorado, and nearly 2,000 nationwide. These clinics are designed to provide access to care for youths, keeping students healthy, in school and ready to learn.
In Southwest Colorado, Axis Health System has been on the forefront in developing this model of care since 2007. In 2010, Axis took over the management and operation of the two local SBHCs as part of a long-standing partnership with Durango School District 9-R. The SBHCs at Durango High School and Florida Mesa Elementary serve all La Plata County students, including home-schooled youths, online learners, charter school and private school students. The comprehensive care for students includes: full immunizations, check-ups, $25 sports physicals, treatment of illness and injury, behavioral health care, access to oral health care and health education.
Having health care available at school provides an easy and familiar access point for students with a care team that is ready to help. Here’s a scenario: A teenager who is not feeling well makes an appointment at an SBHC. During the appointment, a provider finds that the teen is feeling run down, has an ear infection and feels anxious about her midterm exams. A care team approach means the teen is treated for her illness and also given stress-management tools to support her success in class.
At the SBHC at Florida Mesa Elementary, a student’s parents worked with providers and the school staff to develop a care plan for a child with ADHD. The school supported the child’s regular appointments, the providers monitored and managed his medication and his progress was reported back to parents as outlined in the plan. The parents knew their child’s care was in good hands. They didn’t have to miss work, and he didn’t have to miss school.
“The SBHCs are great for parents and students because there is usually little or no wait to be seen,” said Kari Bumpus, Axis Health System’s clinic coordinator of SBHCs. Families are billed for services provided in accordance with any insurance benefits they have. If there is no insurance coverage for the student, access to care is based on ability to pay, with a sliding-fee discount for those who qualify.
This year, Axis Health System is excited to launch telemedicine carts as a pilot to expand service at both SBHCs. A patient can be at one location and a provider can be at another during a real-time virtual exam. Video cameras and specialized tools allow providers to see inside ears, nose or throat and connect with the patient visually. Acute issues like a sore throat, rash, pink eye or ear infections can be treated quickly with this method. Telemedicine is a way to increase access to care, and it is gaining momentum across many rural and remote areas. The goal is fast, efficient and effective treatment. If it’s successful, it will allow the expansion of SBHC services to other schools.
Research studies have shown that SBHCs improve access to care, reduce absenteeism, reduce the use of expensive emergency room care and improve immunization rates. Technical innovations, a team approach and on-site convenience make SBHCs a great community resource. While these clinics can’t protect students from the bumps and bruises of the school years, they can provide comfort and care when it’s most needed.
Karla Sluis is a spokesperson for Axis Health System, a nonprofit that includes nine locations in five counties of Southwest Colorado.