High school health centers

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Growing up my mom would take my sister and me to see Dr. Whittemore for regular check-ups.  The office he started is still there on N.W. Lovejoy Street in Portland. He could hear the pneumonia in my chest over the phone in the night when I was five. I was a lucky kid. Looking back I don’t recall much about health services at my high school. I think there was a nurse part-time in a small office. I have no idea what kids without family pediatricians did for check-ups or treatment. It wasn’t part of my consciousness.

This morning I spent an hour with a team of health providers at West Seattle High School. The student health center is centrally located, visible in the school, is light and comfortable. And it was busy even at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday. They can do the sports physicals required for high school athletics, they can immunize, they can treat injuries sustained at school in falls or fights, they can dispense medication students require to treat illness or chronic conditions.  Just as important they are a place students can go for stress, depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Last year they had 1,339 total visits.

What students themselves don’t see is the intricate coordination between Seattle Public Schools, which funds part of the on-site nurse – and she’s been on-site for 22 years (thanks!), and NeighborCare Health, the non-profit health clinic operator. Money for the other part of the school nurse and for a chunk of the NeighborCare contract comes from the 2004 Families & Education Levy. Then there’s the paperwork of Medicaid billing since many of the kids’ families financially qualify for federal support.

I met the clinic staff (including my Conibear compatriot Beth Upton, the ARNP) and the student helpers and tried to remember if my school had anything like the health center. I don’t think it did. I think kids who didn’t have pediatricians, insurance and parents who could pay just didn’t get regular health services – physical, mental or dental. We know health status and access to care is a predictor for learning success. Odd that it took us so long to figure it out.