Helping Hands: Doctors in Summit County schools
Summit Daily News
Students perform better in class when they show up healthy and ready to learn. Why not make it easier for that to happen?
For 15 years, the Summit Youth Services Center (SYSC) has been working to improve students’ health by providing school-based health care in Summit County schools. Doctors and health professionals work in clinics built inside the schools so students can avoid health-related absences and receive quicker care.
“It’s integrated care conducted at school,” said Erin Major, the program’s administrator. “Healthy kids learn better. It’s good if they can stay in school.”
The Summit Youth Services Center is one branch of a larger umbrella organization, the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care (NASBHC), which has affiliates in states all across the country. Major said Colorado has a significant number of centers. NASBHC’s mission is to improve the health status of children and youth by advancing and advocating for school-based health care.
“(Kids) can see a provider at school for 15 or 20 minutes, and not have to leave,” Major said. “Parents don’t have to leave work.”
Currently, there are clinics in Summit High School, Summit Middle School and Dillon Valley Elementary. Silverthorne Elementary will be opening a clinic in a few weeks. All of the clinics are open to anyone affiliated with the school system and provide primary care, dental and behavioral care – the newest addition.
The SYSC is a partnership between five entities. The Summit County School District provides space and administrative support for the clinics. High Country Health Care acts as the primary care provider, and the Summit Community Care Clinic provides administrative oversight and primary, oral and behavioral health care. The Summit County Public Health Department deals with immunizations and communicable disease management. The Family Intercultural Resource Center is the newest addition to the group, and offers a Medicaid and CHIPS (Medicaid for children) enrollment plan. Major said numerous local dentists provide dental care for the students.
Major said each entity involved “gives a significant amount.” She said grants cover some of the salaries for the providers, but most everything else is done free of charge. She said none of the five entities actually give a dollar amount, just services and space.
“Benefits, billing and grant writing are all done gratis by the staff and the directors of the five entities,” she said. “Space being provided by the school is huge.”
Major said the middle school already had a small clinic, and the high school deliberately built one in.
“These are not little small spaces where the nurse just sits by herself,” she said. “These are big clinics. They have a behavioral health room, they have an exam room.”
Major said the school district provides a health aide, like they normally would. They do everything a normal school health aide would do – like deal with cuts, etc. – but they also serve as a front desk person for the providers and make appointments when necessary.
Major said the clinics don’t have providers available at all times. She said if a child doesn’t feel well, they will go to the school nurse like any kid would. The nurse will help the child and call their parents. If a care provider is on-site, the parent can approve to have the child seen. If not, the child might be sent home sick and set up with an appointment for another day.
To participate, parents must enroll their children through a form sent home at the beginning of the school year. Major said anyone with an affiliation with the school district – including staff – can access the services.
“If a mom brings in a sick second grader, and she also has a sick 3-year-old, we’ll take care of that,” Major said. “And we’ll swab mom’s throat too if she doesn’t feel good.”
Major said the clinics do a lot of strep tests, and write a lot of prescriptions. She said they don’t hand out any medications on-site.
“If you can take 30 minutes out of your school day and get your strep test and prescription, it saves everybody a lot of time,” she said.
Major said local dentists have played a large role in screening the students. They screen preschool through fifth-grade, seventh and ninth-grade students with the same mandates as the Department of Education. Students that are identified with oral health needs are then case-managed within the community. They are assigned to dentists based on insurance, Medicaid, or eligibility for the care clinic. Major said all of the dentists have also agreed to “adopt a student,” where they take care of a child free of charge. She said the dentists are “unbelievably giving.”
Screenings are also performed annually at Give Kids a Smile Day, which is supported by Vail Resorts Echo.
Major said grant funding is provided by the Summit Foundation, Colorado Health Foundation, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), and Vail Resorts.
She said grants take care of supplies and some services, but health insurance billing is what really sustains the program. Any private insurance can be billed.
“We really encourage any child with private insurance to use the program because that’s what will help sustain the program,” Major said. “If we want to keep doing this and be able to pay providers, we have to go ahead and have those billing capabilities.”
Major said High Country Health Care is a vital part of the program for that reason.
Major said the shrinking of state funds is a worry for the program. They just got word that a great deal of money has to be cut from the state budget, which used to be the biggest component of their funding.
“Sustainability is difficult. State cuts are going to be big this year, and that’s going to affect our CDPHE grant,” Major said. “But we just continue to move forward and believe that it is the right thing for kids.”
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