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School health center plan sparks conflict among parents

Debate - Parents question need for medical clinic at Forest Grove High

Community members are asking for a second opinion on a proposed School Based Health Center in Forest Grove.

The issue is slated for a vote before the Forest Grove School Board April 28, but several parents at a meeting last Thursday insisted the idea needed a thorough checkup.

'If the school board votes yes, isn't that putting the cart before the horse?' said Lori Van Dyke of Forest Grove, who has a son at Forest Grove High School, where the clinic would be built.

'There are a lot of details that still need to be worked out,' she observed.

Van Dyke's husband, Rick, asked whether there was any 'hard evidence' that supported a need for the health center in town. Connie Potter, the school district's spokeswoman and member of a citizens' committee that has been studying the issue, indicated there was.

'This clinic is going to be geared toward students without health insurance or those who are underinsured,' said Potter, who moderated the public forum in the FGHS library.

'We've been studying this for the last two years. If our kids aren't healthy, they're not in class - and they're not learning.'

The district has secured a $402,000 community development block grant from Washington County to build the 1,600-square-foot center Community members are asking for a second opinion on a proposed School Based Health Center in Forest Grove.

The issue is slated for a vote before the Forest Grove School Board April 28, but several parents at a meeting last Thursday insisted the idea needed a thorough checkup.

'If the school board votes yes, isn't that putting the cart before the horse?' said Lori Van Dyke of Forest Grove, who has a son at Forest Grove High School, where the clinic would be built.

'There are a lot of details that still need to be worked out,' she observed.

Van Dyke's husband, Rick, asked whether there was any 'hard evidence' that supported a need for the health center in town. Connie Potter, the school district's spokeswoman and member of a citizens' committee that has been studying the issue, indicated there was.

'This clinic is going to be geared toward students without health insurance or those who are underinsured,' said Potter, who moderated the public forum in the FGHS library.

'We've been studying this for the last two years. If our kids aren't healthy, they're not in class - and they're not learning.'

The district has secured a $402,000 community development block grant from Washington County to build the 1,600-square-foot center just north of the tennis courts at the high school. Grants also have been secured to pay for the clinic's first three years of operation, Potter said. And, the district is talking to representatives from Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in Cornelius and Tuality Healthcare in an effort to establish an ongoing medical provider for the center.

If the project gains board approval later this month, construction will begin by July. The center's doors could open as early as January 2009.

'None of us are cut and dried on this,' board member Fred Marble told a group of parents after Thursday's meeting. 'Some are not in support of it at this time.'

'Healthy Kids' initiative

The original idea came to Forest Grove administrators in 2005 from the Washington County Commission on Children and Families. That group was pushing a 'Healthy Kids' initiative from Gov. Ted Kulongoski for the creation of more school-based clinics around the state.

To date, 46 clinics have opened in Oregon. Tigard's was the first of 18 new centers expected to be built by 2009.

Kulongoski showed up at Tigard High last week to help cut the ribbon on Washington County's first grant-funded SBHC, saying there are 117,000 children in Oregon without access to health care.

According to Oregon Health Policy and Reseearch data, 15,000 children in Washington County have no health insurance.

SBHCs have operated in Portland and Oregon City for more than 20 years, Potter said.

Forest Grove's business model would be 'unique in the state,' she added, calling for students' private insurance to be billed.

'If they don't have insurance, we'll help them get enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan,' Potter said. Fees would be charged to other students on a sliding scale, but 'if they can't afford to pay, no one will be turned away.'

Obligated to pay

Karen Pronozuk, a former teacher who has a student at Forest Grove High, was upset that even though her family carries private health insurance and has 'taken great care' to select its own doctors, her son could walk across campus to the health clinic and see a physician she didn't know.

'We have a deductible and a co-pay. Will I be responsible for paying that if my child goes to the health center?' she asked. The answer was yes.

Oregon's Minor Consent Law states that any child over the age of 15 can agree to his or her own medical care, said Jackie Rose, a consultant on School Based Health Centers. Students also are legally able to consent for mental health services at age 14, she added.

The Forest Grove clinic would be open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. to provide physical examinations, treat minor injuries, diagnose and treat illnesses, offer immunizations and perform dental and vision screenings. It would also provide mental health services and conduct substance abuse screenings.

Although committee members have recommended that the center not distribute contraceptives or prescriptions for contraceptives, students would be provided with information about where they could get them, Rose said.

Committee member Karen Vanderzanden, who works at Tuality Healthcare, said the clinic would be helpful to working parents who don't want their children to miss school.

'My daughter needed a vaccine and we had to go to the county because our doctor didn't provide it,' she said. 'She missed two blocks of classes.'

Parent Mike Hinton of Forest Grove wanted to know if there was a way to exclude his children from using the clinic.

Maybe - and maybe not, he was told.

'The best way is to tell your children you don't want them to go,'Rose said.