After more than two years of classes disrupted during the pandemic, it’s clearer than ever that schools are more than just places to learn: they’re vital safe spaces for students to make friends, get nutritious meals and to talk to trusted adults. And they can be more—schools can also provide health care.
About 3,000 school-based health centers operate in it more than 30 countries across the US, providing primary and preventive care to students living in medically underserved areas. Staff at the centers treat flu, asthma, diabetes and other common illnesses. They administer vaccinations and check for dental, vision and hearing problems, and some offer mental health care and reproductive health care. These clinics, which are often partnerships between school districts and local community health organizations and hospitals, provide services to children who need them most and are most at risk of falling behind in school because their health needs remain unfulfilled.
The pandemic was hard on existing school-based health centers, and as we reckon with lost years of education, it’s time for government at all levels to recognize that all children need accessible and affordable health care. As lawmakers draft budgets, reallocate funds and begin a new school year, existing clinics must be able to operate without budget fear, more dollars must go to school-based clinics, and more community partners must participate financially and physically in efforts to bring health. care for missing children.
“Healthy kids learn better,” says Robert Boyd, president and CEO of the School-Based Heath Alliance (SBHA), a nonprofit organization that promotes school-based health centers. More than 20 million children the US lacks sufficient access to health care, and the most direct way to address this need is to bring doctors to them. “A lot of their parents aren’t able to take off work to take them on dates,” says Boyd. “And even if they are able to get off work, often children miss an entire day of school. By having the health center right there on the school premises, they can do what they need to do and get back to class.” And schools are often among the most trusted institutions within communities, making it easier to reach students who are anxious to visit doctors’ offices or whose parents don’t trust outside providers.
Providing health care through schools has been shown to improve children’s physical well-being and educational outcomes. or 2005 study IN Journal of Adolescent Health found that after opening health centers in US public schools, their students’ risk of being hospitalized for asthma decreased 2.4 times, and their asthma emergency room trips decreased by 33.5 percent. Other studies have shown that school-based clinics can increase student vaccination rates, reduce mental health problems, and promote student use of contraception. In terms of education, children who use such centers have improved attendance and grades, are more likely to be promoted to the next grade and less likely to be suspended—and are generally better prepared for college. Based on all of this evidence, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention task force recently recommended school-based health centers as a key strategy for advance health equity– that is, to reduce the inequalities of access that exist between wealthier, privileged populations and everyone else.
However, most school communities that could desperately use such clinics lack them. In 2021 Congress appropriated $5 million to support new and expanded services at school-based health centers. That money funded 25 facilities – yet the program received more than 300 applications. And less than half of US states currently fund school health centers. Although clinics can also bill Medicaid and insurance for students who have coverage, they need steady funding for operating expenses, including hiring well-trained staff.
Many existing centers it had to be closed temporarily or permanently during the pandemic, and centers struggled to maintain staff and funding. One bright spot is that more than 60 percent of centers that responded to an SBHA survey began offering telehealth services between 2020 and 2021, expanding their reach. And many were able to administer COVID vaccines to populations that did not have access to rescue vaccines. Giving children the care they need where they need it has always made sense and is more urgent than ever. The time is right to expand school-based health centers to all underserved students.
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