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Health center benefits extend to classrooms

Cost of care at Forest Grove High School clinic would come from Medicaid and insurance, not education budgets

A recent letter to the editor ('Could health clinic money fund education?' News-Times, March 19, 2008) raised several questions that I'd like to respond to.

The perception that the school district is 'getting into the health-care business' must be addressed. Actually, the school district is not going into the health-care business. It will be a health center located on district property, but the medical and mental health providers will pay the staffing of the center.

A very robust and sustainable business plan has been developed to make the health center financially self-sustaining, so that no district general fund money is needed for its operation.

Students who seek medical or mental health services will be billed through either their private insurance or Medicaid. Thus, money that is earmarked for public education is not targeted to be spent on health-care services.

The district will provide only the land and in-kind support such as utilities, janitorial service and internet access.

We all know that healthy students learn better. The community members of the Forest Grove School District have an amazing opportunity to support healthy students.

I attended your school-based health center community meetings, and one consistent theme emerged - people in Forest Grove and Cornelius want the best for all children.

Oregon has had school-based health centers for more than 20 years. The Tigard Tualatin School District and community will open their new school-based health center at Tigard High School on April 9.

The school-based health center at Merlo Station School in the Beaverton School District has been in operation since 1994.

School-based health centers are built on research that supports an access model. When students have health care readily available, they seek preventative and early intervention care.

Students who do not seek early medical care are likely to end up in the emergency room of local hospitals. Not having easy access to care is not only dangerous for youth, but also expensive, according to the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care, 2007.

Your school-based health center would be for all students in the Forest Grove School District. It would provide sports physicals, immunizations and serve the more than 1,900 students who have medical tags for chronic conditions like asthma and allergies. It would be wonderful to address those needs at the center rather than by taking students out of school.

Research consistently supports the links between health and academic success. In Oregon, the 2006 Health Teens survey found that students who reported better physical and/or emotional health were much more likely to have As or Bs. Students with poorer health were more likely to report Cs, Ds or Fs.

The school-based health center at Forest Grove High School would be another of many partnerships that the district has formed to provide important services to students.

For example, the Boys and Girls Club provides after-school activities and the Oregon Child Development Coalition provides early education services through Head Start. Cascadia Behavioral Health Care provides mental health services.

Similarly, the YMCA operates the Family Resource Center, which helps more than 1,000 families each year. Youth Contact offers alcohol and drug prevention, mental health services, and early intervention and skill building services for at-risk students in the middle and high schools.

More than 25 partners, including all four major hospitals in the area, are working together to make the school-based health center a reality at Forest Grove High School and also at high schools throughout Washington County.

The goal is not to divert schools' focus from providing an excellent education. Rather, it's to make sure students are healthy so they are in class and ready to learn and able to take advantage of that excellent education.

Christine Murray chairs the Washington County Commission on Children and Families.