Clinic coming to Milwaukie High

by: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN Back in May, students from Milwaukie High School's HOPE Club (Help Our People Exceed) asked the Board of County Commissioners to help fund a school-based health center. They were clearly successful since Clackamas County put in $50,000 to get the ball rolling.

Milwaukie High School will build a student health clinic, thanks to a federal grant of more than $396,000. In all, supporters raised more than $500,000 for the health center.

The grant, funded through the national health care reform act, was one of 11 awarded in Oregon and 278 nationwide. Funds were provided exclusively for school-based health centers.

The Milwaukie High health center will provide comprehensive health care, including medical, dental and mental health services. Students without health care access will receive free services covered by federal funds, and for those with health coverage, insurance companies will be billed. Renovated classroom space in a small building at the center of campus will house the facility.

"Studies of school health centers have demonstrated that meeting the health care needs of students significantly boosts school attendance, which supports greater academic success," said project organizer Michael Ralls. "Students are more likely to seek the physical and mental care they need in a trusted environment like school."

A number of partners have worked to plan the project, including Partners for Healthy Students, Stand for Children, Help Our People Exceed (a Milwaukie High School student group), Trillium Family Services, Oregon Health Sciences University, Outside In, Clackamas County and Milwaukie High staff members. This spring, the Milwaukie Rotary club donated more than $5,000 to the project.

"We are deeply grateful to our initial contributors in this project, the Ann and Bill Swindells Charitable Trust and Clackamas County," said Ralls. "Each provided generous $50,000 gifts, showing strong community support for this project. This helped us secure the federal grant. "

Outside In will be the project's medical sponsor, under the direction of Dr. Wayne Sells, head of adolescent medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University. Since February 2010, Outside In has provided medical care on the Milwaukie High campus via a mobile medical van that visits Friday mornings. The van also visits New Urban High School one morning each week.

Due to funding limitations, the North Clackamas School District now has only five nurses to serve its 30 schools. School-based health centers are a cost-effective investment, district officials said, proven to reduce inappropriate emergency room use, increase use of primary care and reduce hospitalization rates, particularly for hard-to-reach populations.

"Another plus is that this project brings construction jobs to our community at a time of high unemployment," said Ralls. "This project costs the school district nothing; in fact, by increasing student attendance, it will boost school funding."

Construction of the new health clinic at Milwaukie High School will likely begin as early as this winter, with the goal of opening the health center at the start of the 2012-13 school year.