The doctors office inside a school that has been operating at Durango High School for four years now has an elementary school counterpart at Florida Mesa Elementary. The new school-based health center opened its doors at the beginning of November and has been serving a steady stream of students ever since.
Right now, grant money pays for the center to be open 10 hours a week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. During that time, students from Florida Mesa, or any other school in the district, can receive health care at the center, which is staffed by a pediatrician and a behavioral health-care provider.
Dr. Kristen Roessler, a pediatrician, is medical director for the districts school-based health centers, and behavioral health-care provider Stacy Reuille-Dupont works at Axis Health System.
The health center is funded through a four-year $321,000 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation through initiatives focused on healthy living and increasing access to health insurance. Durango School District 9-R and Axis Health System, the school health centers designated medical sponsor, also provide in-kind services, partnerships and resources.
Each student who visits the school health center is seen by the physical and the behavioral health specialist because many times behavioral problems are caused by a physical health issue and vice versa, Roessler said. The center can do most of the day-to-day operations and lab tests conducted at a regular doctors office.
So far, the women have seen students for conditions ranging from the standard cough to attention deficit disorder.
The two school-based health centers serve a desperate need for health care in the community, said Sherrod Beall, the Durango school districts director of coordinated school health services. The centers treat students regardless of their insurance status.
This is an entryway into the health-care system for many families that wouldnt be able to do so otherwise, she said. Because there is no local community health center, we really have nothing in this community for uninsured kids, she said.
Axis Health System tried to become a federally qualified health center, which is one of the only mechanisms for care of uninsured and underinsured people, said Pam Wise Romero, Axis executive vice president for health-care services. But federal funding was cut dramatically, and Axis didnt receive the designation.
Florida Mesa was chosen as the location for the newest health center because it has the largest numbers of students on free and reduced lunches, she said. In its one month of operations, Roessler estimated the elementary school center had served about 50 students, though she didnt have a breakdown of their insurance status.
Eventually, the Florida Mesa School Based Health Center hopes to expand to five days a week and to serve students in Ignacio and Bayfield, both of which are medically under-served, Beall said.
Axis Health System also may eventually take over the oversight of medical care and manage electronic billing at the schools, Romero said.
Were still struggling in La Plata County about how to provide care for those that are uninsured and underinsured, but school-based health centers have been able to pick up a piece of that, Romero said.
The benefits of school-based health centers are many, Beall said. They provide an option for parents who cant take off work to take their children to the doctor, and they can minimize the time that students are out of class for appointments. They also serve as a safety net for children who may otherwise fall through the cracks in health care.
If the center serves a student who is uninsured, staff members try to get the student enrolled in a program, Beall said.
Statewide, there are 49 school-based health centers, 12 of which are in rural areas.
The current challenge for health center staff members is to find other funding sources that will allow them to expand the health center and make it sustainable. One option being considered is billing on a sliding scale that also would allow the center to bill Medicaid and CHP+ when it serves students insured under those programs.
Beall made it clear that whatever path the center decides to take, it wont ever turn anyone away.