This is a guest post by Brenda Morrison, a CCMU board member and a partner at Engaged Public, a Denver-based public policy strategy firm providing public policy development, leadership development, public engagement, dialogue facilitation, and episodic facilitation services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is 2:30 p.m. at the School-Based Health Center in Durango High School. In one room, a teen is being counseled after telling his friends he was contemplating suicide. Another student comes in complaining of terrible pain from a migraine.
Meanwhile, a staff member is on the phone arranging an ophthalmologist visit for a 14-year-old girl. The only problem is, the girl does not have insurance, nor do her parents. Not to worry, another staff person begins working with her parents to enroll her on the CHP+ program so that she can be insured.
That is what I witnessed in just ten minutes at the Durango School-Based Health Center. That was only ten minutes, so can you imagine what a regular eight-hour day is like?
School-Based Health Centers are an essential component of our health care system in Colorado, as they primarily serve students who do not have regular access to medical care. While each center is different, some of the services include well-child exams, mental health assessments and treatment, as well as dental exams.
There are more than 50 School-Based Health Centers in Colorado in urban school districts like Denver and Adams County and in rural school areas such as Lamar and Montrose. They continue to expand and grow throughout the state. Next month, a new one is slated to open at Avon Elementary School in Eagle County.
These health centers are staffed by dedicated professionals who treat medical issues, but often serve as case managers or what should be referred to as problem solvers. They consider the whole student and what might be going on at home: Is the student getting food at home? Do they have proper supervision after school? Have they seen a family doctor for a checkup?
Although my tour of the School-Based Health Center at Durango High School coincided nicely with my role as the chair of the CCMU Public Policy Committee and specifically with the mission of CCMU, my visit to Durango was with my own organization. Our firm, Engaged Public, specializes in bridging the gap between people and public policy. One way Engaged Public does this is through our Bighorn Leadership Program, which we run in collaboration with Colorado State University’s Office of Engagement.
Over the past year, seven diverse community leaders from Durango participated in the Bighorn Leadership Program. As part of the program, these leaders were charged with coming up with a health-related project. These leaders chose to invest their time in learning more and promoting the Durango School-Based Health Centers (there are two) in their community. What they discovered is that many opinion leaders in the Durango area are entirely unfamiliar with the School-Based Health Centers and the role they play in providing preventive and affordable care.
Studies have shown that healthy students learn better, and so School-Based Health Centers are leading the way in keeping our kids healthy so they can do well in school. The Big Horn Leadership fellows realized that the Durango community—and all communities—need to invest in this important resource for students and families. While it is the job of these leaders to inform and educate their community about the value of their local School-Based Health Centers, I invite you to learn more the facilities in your own community.