At Monday night’s School Committee meeting Superintendent John Macero suggested collaborating with the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) to open a school-based health center at the new middle/high school to provide care for 6th-12th grade students during school hours.
“Seeing a partnership between the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center and the school would benefit all our students,” said Macero.
Since the school is in the process of being constructed, Macero is considering designing an area in the new building specifically for EBNHC, who have offered to cover the cost of altering the scheme.
School-based health services have been around the country for decades, and Bernadette Thomas, chief nursing officer at EBNHC, believes that it will reduce absenteeism by giving adolescence access to care inside the school.
“What really invigorated our efforts in the town of Winthrop is early intervention and prevention of asthma,” said Thomas. “We received money from Massport based on the study that came out last year indicating that this town is affected the most by the environmental pollution caused by Massport. We want to expand our programming in Winthrop.”
The proposed health center would offer services such as physical exams, vaccination shots, and pre-screening for concussions. The center would provide counseling, advice and early intervention for substance abuse and reproductive health issues. They could also offer dental hygiene services and x-rays.
“I think it’s a phenomenal idea. To give more support to the nurses and adjustment counselors at the school is a win-win. I think it will impact the students positively,” said Meredith Hurley, Winthrop’s public health nurse, who has been helping EBNHC pass out asthma assessment kits to homes in Winthrop.
The EBNHC would be imbedding a full-time, licensed, independent social worker to provide mental and behavioral health services for the treatment of anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and overdose prevention.
They would like to provide reproductive health services, such as advice and counseling about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy prevention. If the school allows it, EBNHC could also prescribe birth control for women and condoms for everyone.
“We want to be a part of your school system and provide comprehensive care for your adolescence,” said Thomas. “The health center would provide full-scope medical services. We would put a full-time family nurse practitioner there who could do immunizations, pre-sports evaluations, and anything else that comes up.”
The health center would be open whenever the school is open. There would be a full-time medical assistant to help in the enrollment process, register students, and schedule appointments. Nurses will work closely with teachers so that the Health Center is as least disruptive to classes as possible.
To visit the health center, students do not have to be a member of EBNHC. They can have any healthcare provider they want. The only requirement for students to receive treatment is a consent form from their parents, which is good until the parents withdraw the enrollments.
“If you have a primary care provider that is not us, we make every effort to communicate with them,” Thomas said. “We send treatment notes back to the primary care provider. We’re not here to steal patients from primary care providers in your community; we’re here to deliver service where children are the most, and that’s in school.”
Thomas believes that schools are ideal locations for health centers because parents do not have to schedule appointments during the day and take time off from work. Children would miss less school time if they could receive services where they already are.
“I think this is excellent,” said Dawn Sullivan, School Committee member. “We really need this in our school. The idea of prevention and availability for adolescence is fantastic.”
The EBNHC offered to provide some of the services, such as behavioral and mental health counseling, over the summer if the school is open. Other peer groups and services would be tailored to the children’s needs based on feedback from nurses, school counselors, and students.
“We are committed to staying in the community for the long run,” said Thomas.