School district to plan health center


Staff Writer

Archuleta School District 50 Joint recently received a $20,000 planning grant from the Colorado Health Foundation to pay for the planning stages of a School Based Health Center (SBHC) on the middle school campus. According to Erica DeVoti, prevention coordinator for the district, the district expects to receive the awarded funds by the end of the year.

SBHCs are built and operate based on the idea that healthy students are better learners. If students are able to receive the medical care and attention they need in a comfortable, convenient setting, it will enable them to maintain more focus at school all other variables aside. The planned SBHC on the middle school campus will serve all students, with permission of their parents, regardless of insurance status. The accessibility of a SBHC to district students will also familiarize youth with health services, heightening their comfort level for seeking medical attention when necessary and promoting healthy lifestyles.

In addition to these services, SBHC staff will help identify and address behaviors that put students’ physical or mental health at risk. The planned SBHC will offer services based on assessed community needs. The main services likely to be provided at the SBHC include primary care, preventative care and mental health services. The integration of primary care, prevention and wellness, mental health and substance use services at SBHCs often puts off the stigma that surrounds students seeking these services individually. Other SBHCs offer expanded services such as dental care, but project planners want to start small and provide quality services in the beginning. Although services will be offered on the middle school campus, any student in the district, including online and home school students, will be able to access clinic services if their parent or guardian signs a consent form.

Middle school principal Chris Hinger explained that he likes the idea of having a SBHC on the middle school campus as long as it doesn’t interfere with school safety.

“Different members of the public and medical staff coming and going from the clinic make me concerned about school safety. I like the idea of it (the SBHC) being in its own building (the administration building) on the corner, but am less supportive of the idea if the center is housed elsewhere on campus,” said Hinger.

Aside from safety concerns, Hinger described how the addition of a SBHC on campus would compliment school nursing services and be a good resource for middle school students with varied medical needs. Operation of a SBHC on the middle school campus would also help school district staff and administrators focus on “whole kid health” as it relates to academic success.

Grant monies will primarily be used to hire a business consultant. The chosen independent consultant, Kim Mangle, has been approved by the Colorado Association of School Based Health Centers, the National Association of School Based Health Centers, the Colorado Health Foundation and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as a qualified consultant to write a business plan for new SBHCs. Working together, these organizations create a system of requirements and protocols that help set new SBHCs up for success. Having a knowledgable and experienced business consultant writing a business plan that sets up the SBHC to be sustainable in the future is critical. The school district had to choose a consultant approved by these entities in order to be eligible to receive the $20,000 planning grant.

In addition to paying for consulting services, the planning grant will be utilized during the first half of 2014 to pay for a site evaluation of the administration building, the proposed site for the SBHC, by an architect. Additional monies will be spent to cover the cost of various site visits, community engagement projects, administrative efforts, advertising, marketing, and travel to SBHCs in Parachute, Durango and Cortez to see how they function in those communities.

A community advisory committee (CAC) made up of community members of varied backgrounds and skill sets, formed shortly after the district received a $5,000 quick start grant for the SBHC project earlier this year after failing to be awarded a $20,000 planning grant initially. According to DeVoti, failure to receive a planning grant earlier this year resulted primarily from a lack of community involvement and support. The 17 members of the advisory committee have committed to involvement with the project at least through the planning phase.

Receipt of the planning grant by the district upon second application means that the CAC will now set up public meetings to garner interest in and support for the project. The CAC will also choose an architect to do a site evaluation and officially select Mangle as the business consultant for the project. The CAC has the power to make these selections because the monies being used to complete the planning process are grant monies rather than tax revenues, which would necessitate different selection protocols.

The CAC will also draft and submit a business plan with the input and guidance of Mangle to the Colorado Health Foundation with an application for a $400,000 implementation grant that would allow the district to get the SBHC up and running. Drafting a comprehensive business plan based on feedback from community leaders, project partners and district parents and students will be critical to the long-term sustainability of the SBHC. The current plan is to submit the business plan and implementation grant application by June 15, 2014. As the SBHC medical sponsor, Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) staff and board will be involved in upcoming SBHC planning.

As medical sponsor, PSMC will eventually provide staff including nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to operate the SBHC, while Axis Mental Health based in Durango will provide mental health services. According to PSMC CEO Brad Cochennet, the medical center should have the capacity to provide staff time and services needed to operate the SBHC.

“We are committed to helping the school district figure out what they need to run a SBHC,” said Cochennet at the hospital district monthly board meeting Tuesday night. “Operating a SBHC at the middle school would create opportunities for providers to see kids where they need medical attention. The center will make it possible to provide a better level of care than kids are getting today.”

As a willing partner and provider, PSMS will offer staff services to the SBHC as a functioning extension of the rural health clinic operating on the medical center campus. In this situation, PSMC will have to carefully record staff hours spent serving students at the SBHC separately from hours spent serving community members at the rural health clinic on the medical campus due to medicare restrictions concerning provider and staff time allocation. Although providing services to the SBHC may cost PSMC money early on, the SBHC, if successful, should become self sustaining over time.

After receipt of the planning grant money, the CAC will meet Thursday, Jan. 23, at 10 a.m. in order to discuss next steps and begin the planning process. In the coming months, the CAC will seek feedback and suggestions from the public to help craft a business plan for the SBHC that will best serve the needs of the community. During the planning stage, community concerns and questions about the SBHC will be addressed. The CAC will engage the public with print and online resources as well as in public meetings.

“Community support and feedback is integral to achieving our (Archuleta School District 50 Joint, PSMC, the Colorado Health Foundation and the CAC) main goal of sustainability,” said DeVoti.

School board members, school staff and administrators, PSMC staff and board members, parents, students and community members will all be invited to get involved by offering opinions, guidance, feedback and support to the CAC during the planning stage of the SBHC project.