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School clinics are a necessity

It’s heartening that suburban schools are learning from the long-established lead of Portland Public Schools and Multnomah County in helping kids be healthier and better students. Last week, a partnership of government agencies, health care groups and nonprofit organizations opened Washington County’s second school-based health center at Tigard High School for students who don’t have health insurance or whose families cannot afford routine health care services. Three similar school clinics are planned to open later year this in Forest Grove, Beaverton and Hillsboro. While these new centers should be celebrated, suburban communities lag behind the 12 school-based health centers offered in Portland schools. Clackamas County, for example, has only one school-based clinic, at Oregon City High School, with two more planned to open at Canby and New Urban high schools. Multnomah County sets example Multnomah County has had it right for a long time. The first school-based health center opened at Roosevelt High School in 1986. Other clinics — all of which are operated and funded by the county — are located in six other high schools, three middle schools, one elementary school and at Portsmouth, a kindergarten-through-eighth grade school. The clinics provide health care services to all school-age children in Multnomah County, as well as others up to age 21, depending on insurance. Portland’s school clinic services include health exams and immunizations, treatment of illnesses and injuries, family planning and reproductive health care, health education and mental health services. Services are free, but insurers, including Medicaid, may be billed. Some may suggest that it is not a school’s responsibility to ensure students’ good health. We think it’s way past time to understand that young people who are healthy are better able to learn and benefit from the billions we spend each year in Oregon on public education. There also is a huge and growing medical need. Surveys find that the tens of thousands of young Oregonians who are without health insurance do not receive regular medical or dental exams. Many rely on last-minute, highly expensive emergency room care when they become ill. As a result, school-based health care services should be considered not a fad but a necessity. Yet many face an unsteady future. Unlike in Multnomah County, suburban clinics require a cobbled-together partnership of grants and donations from local school districts, nonprofits and local, county and state governments to pay the $150,000 to $200,000 annual clinic budgets. Lasting solution is required Left unanswered is the question of how health care for uninsured young Oregonians will be provided over time. Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who attended the Tigard High clinic opening last week, correctly pointed out that the matter of providing young Oregonians health insurance must be comprehensively and immediately addressed. 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 still favors such a funding mechanism, but we think it will take him, as well as an army of education and health care advocates, to provide a long-term funding solution. Before then, the dozen very important health care centers in Portland’s schools and their partnership with Multnomah County should serve as role models and help suburban school districts discover how to expand their health care services to more students.