Opinion: Here's how to advance health equity for kids in Pennsylvania - Generocity Philly

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Mar. 5, 2020 11:59 am

Opinion: Here’s how to advance health equity for kids in Pennsylvania

"As Philadelphia works hard to reverse the poverty rate that has come to define us, we should consider investing in school-based health centers," says guest columnist Julie Cousler Emig.

"We envision a future where every Title One school in Pennsylvania has access to a comprehensive school-based health center," says guest columnist Julie Cousler Emig.

(Provided photo)

This guest post was written by Julie Cousler Emig, the executive director of Education Plus Health.
As the presidential campaign kicks into high gear, the discussion about healthcare is intensifying.

While candidates may disagree about the best solution for ensuring that everyone has access to quality health care, one thing is clear. Healthcare, affordability and access, will dominate this year’s presidential election.

What many may not know is that school-based health centers are an excellent solution for students in rural and urban school districts.

During the month February, which was School-Based Health Awareness Month, thousands of cities and communities celebrated school-based health centers (SBHCs) for their effectiveness in facilitating better health and academic outcomes for students. For decades, states like New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Arkansas and Michigan have supported school-based health centers with state funding and policies that support the work.

A school-based health center is, in the most basic terms, a health care clinic located in a school that includes a medical provider working in collaboration with school leadership and the school nurse to increase care to those students who need more than the traditional medical home model. School-based health centers have long been touted as the most effective and cost-effective way to reach children and adolescents.

Seventy-five percent (75%) of SBHCs in the United States also offer mental health services.

Demonstrating the efficacy of an integrated model, several studies have found mental health to be the leading reason for visits to the health center, and that inner-city students are almost two dozen times more likely to make mental-health related visits to SBHCs than to community health centers.

Studies have also found that students served by SBHCs had fewer school absences, discipline problems, and course failures, and less hospitalizations and hospital visits due to asthma and other health concerns. Meeting kids where they spend the majority of their time, school, makes sense and minimizes the barriers presented by the social determinants of health shaped by poverty.

School nurses, social workers, medical providers, and mental health clinicians work in collaboration to identify the students who are vulnerable because of poverty, trauma, and chronic health problems to create a team to wrap them with care.

As Philadelphia works hard to reverse the poverty rate that has come to define us, we should consider investing in school-based health centers to better advance children’s health equity. But we must have state support. Medicaid reimbursement is simply not enough.

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And we must have policies that support their growth and sustainability. For example, passing the Full Practice Act, HB100, so that experienced nurse practitioners can practice at the top of their license without having to start all over with each new job. Nurse practitioners must be enabled to practice to the extent they were trained, certified, and licensed without the need for the costly and time consuming restriction of collaboration agreements for experienced nurse practitioners.

Since 2009, Education Plus Health has been the leading nonprofit in the region advocating for school-based health centers as a critical source of healthcare for underserved students. Now with 15 school-based health centers serving over 7,000 students annually, our evaluation has consistently demonstrated decreased chronic absenteeism and hospital visits among our students. Working closely with our school partners our goal is to help their students succeed academically, but we cannot do it alone.

Pennsylvania must invest in school-based health centers with financial support and policy changes. We envision a future where every Title One school in Pennsylvania has access to a comprehensive school-based health center with a medical provider and therapist working hand in hand with schools, students, and parents to better control asthma and diabetes, address trauma and mental health risk, and help adolescents make better sexual health choices.

When we continue to follow the presidential nominees debating healthcare, we want to remind the candidates to embrace school-based health centers as a prime health care solution for our most vulnerable children and families.

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