“Above everything else, a person’s ZIP code is the best predictor of a person’s success, in the United States,” said Steven Blakesley, a health promotion specialist with the Clatsop County Department of Health.
He and a panel of health care professionals were grilled Tuesday night by a mostly older audience of more than 40 at the second community meeting on a proposed School-Based Health Center for Astoria School District.
The public health department, using a $60,000 grant it secured in August from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), is planning a School-Based Health Center. The project is in partnership with Astoria School District and designed to improve students’ access to basic medical – and possibly mental health – services closer to the classroom.
“We’re trying to level the playing field and provide health care for everyone,” said Blakesley. “By being in the school itself … it’s easy for the kids to get to; therefore, there’s easier utilization of health care.”
The clinic would be equipped and staffed by primary care providers from Coast Family Medical Center, the medical sponsor, to offer affordable physical, mental and preventative health services.
An advisory panel has been formed on the issue, including members of Coast Family Health Center, county government, Astoria School Board and Clatsop Community College. To be added are two community members and students.
The district would provide the space and utility costs, while Coast Family would staff the clinic.
One issue prominently raised in the first meeting was costs, to which Blakesley responded then and last night that the project will not raise people’s taxes because grants would provide the majority of funding for the center.
“School-based health centers have been around for 25 years,” said Blakesly. “They’re not here today, gone tomorrow.”
The planning grant money, said Margo Lalich, director of the public health department, needs to be spent by the end of the fiscal year, June 30. There is a second round of grant funding for implementation of the center, although the district and health department will most likely not pursue that this year. They would instead do the planning now and wait for future rounds of funding when they’re thoroughly prepared to start a center.
He added that the center could save money by creating more healthy and academically successful students and teaching people where to properly seek care. Ten percent of adults in Clatsop County currently consume 70 percent of the health care.
In terms of staffing, said CEO Jim Coffee of Coastal Family, medical sponsor of the center, his group will provide a nurse practitioner and a medical assistant. Summer Watkins of Clatsop Behavioral Health said her organization would provide an addictions and mental health counselor.
“It sounds like you’re trying to pull together a lot of services that are already available,” said audience member Helen McDaniel, adding that there’s nothing stopping nurses from making referrals to those services. Teri Johnson, the district’s nurse, said there are barriers, though, to accessing health care outside the school.
“The school-based health center acts as a hub to other existing services in the school and in the community,” said Blakesly about the efficiency of having a center to communicate about all the other services available.
One audience member, who described herself as a Catholic mother and grandmother, said providing children contraceptives and other birth control would be like pouring fuel on a fire. She added that students need basic health care and good meals.
“Kids aren’t just going there for condoms or whatnot,” said Blakesley, adding that it costs $150 per year for reproductive health counseling and contraception, $3,428 to carry a baby to term and $330,000 to raise a child until 18 years old. In Clatsop County, he added, 39 teen pregnancies in 2011 cost it $133,684.
Julie Mabry, whose daughters attend Astoria schools, asked what role the nurse would play. Johnson said that as a nurse she can make referrals to the health center.
The makeup of the advisory panel, said Charles Hamerle, is also suspect, with Coastal Family represented but also standing to gain market share as the operator of the health center. He also questioned the presence of an Astoria School Board member on the committee.
For more information on the school-based health centers, visit Clatsop County Public Health Department’s or Astoria School District’s websites, www.osbhcn.org or nasbhc.org. Venus Fromwiller, the coordinator for the health center, can also be reached at email@example.com or 503-468-9419.
A final community meeting on the issue will take place at 6 p.m. March 21 in the Astoria High School auditorium.
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.