Hallpass for Health Care

As Congress attempts to override President Bush’s veto of the state children’s health insurance program, schools are taking matters into their own hands to ensure students get the care they need.Thousands of Colorado children regularly don’t get the medical care they need. But for others, it can be as simple as walking down the hallway. Forty elementary, middle and high schools in Colorado now have health clinics on premises. They provide students a range of services including physicals, immunizations, smoking and STD prevention programs as well as treatment for illnesses, injuries, chronic conditions and mental health.

The clinics, advocates say, improve children’s health by providing immediate, low-cost care. Students miss less school and their parents don’t have to leave work to drive them to appointments. According to the Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care (CASBHC), 21,000 children in the state made 61,000 visits to a school-based health clinic during the 2005-2006 school year.

Durango High School opened the state’s newest such health clinic this week. It is staffed by a nurse, nurse practitioner and behavioral-health consultant. The clinic will fill a critical need since the area suffers from a shortage of health care providers.

The state’s school-based health centers are primarily in urban and rural, as opposed to suburban, areas, and the majority of students receiving care come from low-income families. There’s also an ethnic disparity. More than two-thirds of students with access to school-based health care in the 2005-2006 school year were Hispanic, according to the CASBHC.

Only about 3 percent of Colorado students have health clinics in their schools, and another 8 percent can access other clinics in their districts. But, the number of clinics is growing. Montrose Elementary School will open its health center Oct. 9, and another is in the works for Lamar High School. Schools will be helped by $500,000 in funding approved by the state Legislature in 2006. It was the first time lawmakers allocated money for school-based health care, with the allotment going toward sustaining current health centers as funding new ones. 

The health clinics are mainly supported by federal and local funds, grants, donations and patient fees. Most will bill private insurance, Medicaid, CHP+ or other public programs, and some charge fees on a sliding scale.

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Kerri Rebresh

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