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Students speak out about health clinic at high school

Expectant - A trio of Forest Grove High School students is happy the school board is considering a plan to open a School Based Health Center on campus

Opening a health center at Forest Grove High School that targets uninsured students is more than a nice philanthropic gesture to Taylor McCahon.

If the 15-year-old FGHS sophomore could assign a medical designation to the project, words like 'stat' and 'critical' might come to mind.

'I personally know people who would use it, and it would really benefit their families,' said McCahon, who sat on a steering committee that came up with recommendations for the clinic. 'I feel like it's something we really need here.'

After a final public hearing on April 28, the Forest Grove School Board is due to vote on the proposal the same night. The 1,600-square-foot center, modeled after one that opened at Tigard High School on April 9, would be built near the high school tennis courts.

A $402,000 grant from the Washington County Commission on Children and Families will pay for the building, and district administrators are talking to officials at Tuality Healthcare and the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in Cornelius about providing ongoing medical care.

The clinic's doors would open in January or February 2009.

McCahon, who is interested in going into naturopathic medicine after she graduates from high school, said that in addition to treating illnesses, the clinic also would open other doors for teens who can't afford services like routine medical exams.

'I think there would be some students who would take advantage of the sports physicals so they could play soccer or be on the track team,' she said.

Fellow committee members Elizabeth Guzman, 15, and Leticia Sanchez, 16, said that when they went to an organizational meeting of the committee in February, they didn't know what to expect.

They were pleased that after several long discussions, the committee recommended that contraceptives not be dispensed at the center.

'That was important to me,' said McCahon, whose father, Scott, is a social studies teacher at the high school. 'If that had been in there I think we wouldn't have the community's support.'

Guzman, who's aiming toward a career in cardiology or optometry, reasoned that for students and parents alike, health care accessibility translates into fewer missed hours at school.

'I like that it would reduce absences,' she said. 'If we have (the center), students would only miss a class or part of a class if they had to see a doctor. And parents wouldn't have to miss work.'

Several parents at a community forum April 10 objected to their children visiting any other doctor than their personally selected family physician. Learning that Oregon's minor consent law allows anyone age 15 or older to seek their own medical care was eye-opening for Guzman, McCahon and Sanchez.

'I think some parents were feeling they'd lose control,' said Sanchez. 'But we're teenagers, and we should start being responsible for our own care.'

Because the center is geared toward students who lack insurance or whose insurance is inadequate, it has the potential to serve more than 700 teens at FGHS alone.

It also would serve students at Forest Grove elementary, upper elementary and middle schools.

'The whole district has a need,' said Sanchez, who plans to someday become a dermatologist. 'That's what I was most interested in.'