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Help is just around the corner

District receives grant to build a school-based health care center in Estacada
by: Jeff Spiegel Shannon Powell, Mayor Becky Arnold and Terri Lloyd were the drivers behind making this dream a reality in Estacada.

You could hear the elation in their voices - as if they never dreamed this day would come.

Shannon Powell, Estacada School District's director of special services, and his staff announced recently that Estacada was just months away from opening a school-based health center in September 2012.

The goal is to open the clinic in time for the start of school next fall. The new building, which is estimated at 1,680 square feet, will replace the blue house located on the high school campus. That space will feature four exam rooms, a break room, a mental health room and an area to hold classes.

The excitement was palpable at the Wednesday, Dec. 14, Estacada School Board meeting as Powell, Terri Lloyd (Powell's administrative assistant) and Estacada Mayor Becky Arnold explained the project.

Twelve months ago, Powell recognized a need in the greater community of Estacada, Eagle Creek and Colton for a health center of some sort. Having seen other local school districts such as Canby, Oregon City and Milwaukie develop school-based health centers, Powell began looking into what he could do to bring one to Estacada.

After working with Lloyd to apply for both a federal and a state grant, the pair spent months waiting to hear back from the government. Eventually they did, but the news was bleak - those grants applied only to schools that had existing centers.

A couple months later, Lloyd received a message asking the Estacada School District to reapply for the grants. However, this time the requirements were clear: The schools receiving funding needed an existing health center.

'So we didn't push the button to resubmit our application because it was clear that we didn't qualify,' Lloyd said. 'Then they had a couple of different people call us asking why we hadn't resubmitted the form and we simply explained why we wouldn't qualify.

'Then I heard my favorite line from one of the ladies when she asked, 'Are you shovel ready?' And I said, 'We will be if you give us the money.' '

With hope restored, Lloyd resubmitted the grant request, and just three weeks later the district got the great news it was looking for - it had been approved.

In all, the district received a federal grant of $392,104 to go along with a $60,000 grant it had received from the state. Unfortunately, the state grant fell through when the federal government began cutting funding, and so the project is currently only 84 percent funded.

'We're going to be presenting to the county commission in either January or February,' Powell said. 'They have a history of giving out money to projects like this, and Milwaukie recently received $50,000.'

Other sources of potential funding include other departments of the county and even grants from the city of Estacada.

'One thing that works in our favor in this case is that Estacada is classified as a 'depressed' area,' Arnold said. 'So they are likely to pass out the funding to that type of area before they go to people who have the ability to raise funds.'

With funding seemingly not an issue, Powell and his group moved on to the logistics surrounding how the center would operate.

The first major piece fell into place a few months ago when he was having a conversation with Legacy Health and Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center in particular. As part of an agreement the district made with them, Legacy would provide a nurse practitioner to the health center at no cost to the district.

The practitioner will eventually work his or her way up to 40 hours a week with a combination of community hours as well as student hours.

The true purpose of the project is to meet the health needs of the entire community, but the focus is obviously on local students.

The best part about the program: Kids get treated free in some cases.

'If the student's family has resources to pay for the visit, then their insurance will be billed and the student will cover the remaining costs,' Powell said. 'We have information on students who are on free and reduced lunches, so we know who has the ability to pay and who doesn't. Our job is just to make sure that we don't go too far into the red and that we're doing all we can to retain funds.'

To cover the costs of services to these students, Legacy will recoup that money through treating adults and applying for additional grants.

For adults, the payment process will be the same as any other medical facility. What makes this center especially unique, however, is the structure of when the clinic will be open.

Powell estimates that 60 percent of the time the clinic will hold student-only hours, while the other 40 percent of the time it will be open to the entire surrounding community.

'Instead of a kid missing a whole day, kids can go directly to a nurse and miss less school,' he said.

Ultimately, Legacy is in charge of running the operation from a logistical point of view, and in the eyes of Powell, that's exactly how it should be.

'We're in the education business and they're in the health care business, and that's why we partnered with them,' he said.

With the classroom portion of the building, Powell envisions a program that will help non-college-bound students complete vocational training to become a certified nurse assistant (CNA) or a certified medical assistant (CMA).

According to preliminary discussions with county agencies, the building might also be home to a social worker, a drug and alcohol counselor and other county services.

Among the services the nurse practitioner will provide are health exams, immunizations, lab work and other general medical work.

'Having a facility like this in Estacada is huge because we have never had one,' Arnold said. 'We've tried as a city to get an urgent care center or to get medical facilities to come out here and they said no, so it's something the citizens have wanted for years and years. I guess this is just a big blessing.'

Among the groups that Arnold and Powell identified as the biggest benefactors are locals without reliable means of transportation and seniors.

As it stands, anytime a senior in a home such as Whispering Pines has a medical issue, the fire department is in charge of transporting them for medical attention. With a new facility just down the street, the options for transportation increase immensely.

'Having this so close is vital to our community and that's why I am backing it,' Arnold said. 'This is a huge need and has been a huge need ever since I've lived here."