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Health center sees 3,000 students

Visits to school-based clinic in Forest Grove decline, but district committed


by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Tom McCall Upper Elementary School student Gabriel Tapia gets his blood pressure taken by Forest Grove School Based Health Center health assistant Andrea Tejeda.What’s the 5-year-old School Based Heath Center at Forest Grove High School all about? Keeping kids healthy, in class and ready to learn, say officials who staff the clinic.

Since its inception in 2009, the center — through its medical sponsor, the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center — has seen more than 3,000 students from Forest Grove, Gaston and Banks school districts.

It provides the following services: diagnosis and treatment of minor illness, infection and injury; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) evaluation; immunizations; sports and physical exams; lab tests; mental health and substance abuse assessments; family counseling; and wellness and lifestyle education and support.

New this school year are the once-a-month services of a dental hygienist.

Despite this long list of services, covered by insurance and Medicaid, the number of student visits to the center has decreased by 30 percent, from a high of 979 in 2009-10 — its first year of operation — to 693 in 2012-13.

Nurse Practitioner Sue Bisgyer, who has been with the center since it opened on the FGHS campus, said one of the main reasons for the decline in student visits has been accessibility. “We are a closed campus and, in the past, every time a student wanted to use the health center during school hours, they were required to obtain parental consent,” she said.

But now, with a new permission-slip policy recently approved by the district, if a student has a slip on file signed by a parent or guardian, “they simply go to the attendance office, where they’ll be released to walk over to the off-campus health center.”

Chief of Staff Connie Potter, who was involved in bringing the center to the high school, said district officials are prepared to “go above and beyond” to ensure the SBHC’s success. “We serve everyone, insurance or no insurance,” she said. “The objective is to keep students, teachers and staff in school learning, teaching and doing their jobs.”

Potter pointed out that the health center follows a business plan that calls for it to be financially viable. “The district got a federal grant to pay for the modular building that houses the center, but it doesn’t provide funding for the clinic’s operation. During the first year of operation the clinic received 75 percent of its revenue from grants and 37 percent from patients — and showed a 12 percent profit.

“By the 2012-13 school year, it only received 35 percent of its revenue from grants, and 65 percent from patients, and just broke even.”

The clinic is currently staffed by Bisgyer, who has been with VGMHC for 19 years; medical assistant and receptionist Andrea Tejeda, a Forest Grove High graduate; a full-time therapist who is currently on family leave; and Pacific University student Andrea Nillen, who’ll finish her doctoral studies in psychology this year.

“I’m available three days a week by appointment to students age 5 to 18,” said Nillen. “My approach is one of holistic care, both for the mind and the body. For instance, parents feel better if their child has to go on medications and I’m right there to help. I love being here — the health center is a special place.”

An average of five or six patients come through the SBHC’s doors each weekday, according to Bisgyer, who loves seeing success stories.

Clinic personnel noticed that one teenager who recently came in for his vaccinations “was having trouble walking,” Bisgyer said. “Upon examination, we discovered he had a degenerative hip. We were able to help him in a big way.”

In 2014-15, the center will begin accepting Kaiser Permanente health insurance. “That will be huge,” said Bisgyer.



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