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Opening of school health clinic well worth celebrating

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A partnership of educators, state and local government, health care agencies and non-profit organizations took a major step forward Wednesday in allowing Washington County kids to be healthier and better students.

The accomplishment was the opening of a school-based health center at Tigard High School that will provide preventative and primary health care for students. We believe the leadership and contributions of these many partners and the Tigard-Tualatin School District should be celebrated.

Some may suggest that it is not a high school's responsibility to ensure students' good health. We think those critics would be very wrong. In fact, it's time that more people understand that young people who are healthy are better able to learn and benefit from the billions we spend each year on public education in this state.

A study conducted in 2006 found that 15,000 children in Washington County had no health insurance. In that same year, another study found that 54 percent of the eighth graders surveyed in the county had not had a medical exam in the past year; 30 percent had not had a dental exam; 16 percent were suffering depression and 13 percent had considered suicide. As a result, many of these youngsters never received needed care and others had to rely on very expensive emergency room care.

These statistics are very disturbing and need to be addressed.

The opening of the Tigard High School Health Center is one such step. The center will provide physical exams, health screenings and referrals, as well as diagnosis and treatment of minor illnesses and injuries. The center also will offer lab tests, immunizations, substance abuse assessment and some limited mental health, wellness and lifestyle education and support services.

While the center's opening is a major milestone, we must remember that this is only the county's second school-based health facility. For the past nine years, Beaverton Schools have operated a health care center at Merlo Station High School in partnership with Oregon Health Sciences University.

More school health care initiatives are in the works while teachers focus on teaching kids. Last fall, Sherwood Schools initiated a partnership with Providence Sherwood Medical Group to offer health care services to all students attending Sherwood public schools. Meanwhile, other school based health care centers will open in the next year in Forest Grove, Hillsboro and Beaverton.

School-based health care services such as these are not a fad - they are a necessity. But left unanswered is the question of how is health care for uninsured young Oregonians going to be provided and paid for over time without interruption?

Wednesday's health center opening at Tigard High and the opening of future centers at other schools demonstrates that the state, Washington County, local school districts and an array of non-profit organizations, including hospitals, can work as partners to address part of the student care health issue.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who attended the Tigard event, correctly pointed out that the matter of providing young Oregonians health care insurance must be comprehensively addressed immediately. It won't be easy. Kulongoski's recent attempt to tax cigarettes to pay for insuring kids without health care failed at the polls. We applaud the governor for saying he will resubmit the proposal to the 2009 Legislature, but we think it will take him, as well as an army of education and health care advocates, to make it happen.

Before then, the very important school-based centers in Beaverton, Tigard-Tualatin and Sherwood school districts can all learn from each other and expand their service to more students.