Our main facility on Oleander Drive and four school-based health centers (SBHCs) address and help to alleviate many barriers to access by providing all students with convenient, affordable quality care when they need it. Our SBHCs are conveniently located on campus, in a familiar, safe and confidential setting where students spend much of their day. WHAT plays an integral role and is a committed partner in the community in improving access for adolescents and young adults to comprehensive primary medical care and mental health services by:
- Reducing common barriers to health care access (e.g., scheduling, transportation, financial, etc.).
- Providing convenient, age-appropriate, confidential care in a familiar and safe environment to adolescents who may be reluctant to use traditional medical care.
- Connecting students and their families to primary care practices/medical homes.
- Providing the uninsured with insurance eligibility and enrollment services through a partnership with New Hanover County Department of Social Services.
- Improving the continuity and coordination of their care with other local service providers.
Our services, particularly within SBHCs, are prevention-focused so that health problems and risky behaviors can be caught early or prevented altogether. Prevention and early intervention make financial sense by reducing Medicaid expenditures and inappropriate emergency room use. But most importantly, prevention keeps young people healthy – enabling them to succeed in school and better determine their futures, in terms of economic success and quality of life. Underscoring the importance of prevention, a 2007 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found students who accessed school-based health centers demonstrated:
- Higher visit rates often for preventive services.
- Greater ability to access care on school grounds and during school hours since they did not require transportation.
- Reduced utulization of emergency care.
- Greater likelihood of having received an influenza vaccine, a tetanus booster and a hepatitis B vaccine.
In addition, the study found “having a usual source of care is equally or more important than health insurance when it comes to receiving preventive health counseling.” Yet, “nearly 10 percent of children do not have a usual source of care and the percentage is higher among the uninsured,” the study concluded. WHAT’s presence in the schools not only ensures that students have access to a “usual source of care,” but also ensures prevention, early intervention and harm-reduction services are offered to students who may not access these services elsewhere.
Supporting Student Success
Studies show that SBHCs decrease absenteeism, tardiness and school discipline problems, and enhance students’ overall health and engagement in school. Because many adolescents can be treated at school for their health care needs by our team of providers, daily attendance is increased and overall engagement is enhanced. Since the 1970s, school-based health care has evolved and increasingly gained recognition as a health care delivery model that compliments and expands school health services. With over 1,900 school-based health centers in 45 states today, schools and communities across the country are transforming health and education by uniting them under one roof – creating pathways to students’ educational attainment and lifelong well-being. In North Carolina alone, more than 50 school health centers exist in over 20 counties, with WHAT operating three in New Hanover County. Having behavioral health and substance abuse screening and early intervention services offered through WHAT within the schools, for example, is particularly valued by parents, teachers and school administrators alike. WHAT’s primary care and mental health care providers work closely to help address these types of concerns, centering their interventions at the intersection of education and health. Additionally, our SBHCs help to address and prevent one of the leading causes of school absenteeism among students – asthma, one of the top diagnoses among students who use our services and leading chronic illness among children and adolescents in the US, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This can have significant consequences for adolescents’ health, and often translates into lost time in school. On average, in a classroom of 30 students, about three are likely to have asthma and, in NC alone, asthma accounts for 14 million lost days of school missed annually (2008).