For some kids, Back-to-School time signals the end of their summer fun. However, I was always the kid that eagerly looked forward to September. Nowadays, I’ve got even more to be excited about this time of year, because I know how many kids around Colorado will be benefiting from School-Based Health Centers. There are 54 of these health care facilities spread across the state, which served over 30,000 children during the 2012-2013 school year. They exist in communities where there is a lack of access to care for children, and are an essential part of the education and health systems. Their unique location lowers many common barriers to care, including transportation, cost, and provider shortages.
Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to spend some time in both the Bruce Randolph School Based Health Center in Denver and the Kids Care Clinic in Avon. During the day, students access a variety of services, such as a physical exam for a sports team, immunizations, a counseling session, or a reproductive health consultation. What I realized early on is that these clinics are classrooms, too—they are teaching important lessons to a new generation of health care consumers:
Preventive care matters. According to the latest data, 30% of Coloradans didn’t see a doctor in the last year, meaning they didn’t get at least some of the recommended preventive care they should have. With a school-based health center, students have easy opportunities to access preventive care and learn its importance. Furthermore, with new requirements for coverage of preventive services in the Affordable Care Act, these healthy habits have fewer financial barriers.
Mental health is a part of overall health. Many school-based health centers have co-located behavioral health services. Understanding the relationship between your physical and behavioral health, and taking care of both, is essential for a healthy life. In the past year, 1 in 12 Coloradans who needed mental health services did not or could not access them, and delaying or foregoing care—whether for mental or physical health issues—has long-term consequences. Offering behavioral health services at school can mean identifying and treating issues early, setting kids on a better, healthier path to adulthood, and giving them the tools they need to manage their own mental health.
Kids with healthy teeth do better in school. Colorado kids miss nearly 8 million hours of school every year due to mouth pain, and tooth decay is the most common childhood disease. In 2013, a quarter of Colorado kids didn’t see a dentist, and that’s a bad habit that’s hard to break; 35% of Colorado adults didn’t see a dentist last year. With oral health services integrated into school-based health centers, there are many more opportunities to establish good dental habits and address any issues before they start affecting a child’s school performance.
By ensuring students have consistent, positive interactions with the health system early, we are educating and preparing a new generation of health care consumers. From good eating habits to injury prevention, these multi-tasking, multi-talented facilities and providers are teachers, healers, counselors, and much more. The cost of school supplies may have gone up since I was filling a backpack with pencils and spiral notebooks, but with one investment in school-based health centers, we can improve both our education and our health system—now that’s exceptional Back-to-School value!
For more information on SBHCs or to locate one near you, contact the Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care.