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School-Based Wellness Centers Becoming the Model of Health Care Access for Children and Families

Catherine is a senior communications professional helping social change organizations tell their story in powerful ways. She has expertise in public health, environmental stewardship, philanthropy and education. Follow her on Twitter @CatBrozena

Abrazo Health Phoenix AZ January 2011 020Recent news reports over the past few months have started to shed more light on the effectiveness of school-based wellness centers in supporting the health needs of children and families.

An article posted in California Healthline earlier this year examined how 14 Los Angeles-based wellness centers are taking a “fresh approach” to health care delivery that dovetails nicely with health care reform laws aimed at extending health care benefits to underserved populations. The article highlights how these 14 clinics are taking “the idea of school-based health care one step further by teaming up with community clinic and mental health providers who will work not only with students, but with family members as well.”

Last month, public broadcasting station KQED published a piece as part of The California Report touting school-based health clinics as a critical element in building the “safety net” of health care services for neighborhoods across the country. The piece spotlighted a growing network of school-based clinics in the San Diego City Heights neighborhood and quoted Steven Eldred of The California Endowment on how these clinics are “establishing a whole system of care… [S]chools become a point of entry to a comprehensive safety net of services.”

While school-based health clinics have been around for decades, today’s clinics are broadening their scope of care beyond disease treatment to care that implements key prevention strategies such as mental health services, diabetes prevention, oral health care and more.

School-based health centers are spreading as a model for health care access in the community, connecting students and their families with a comprehensive health care experience that is patient-centered and holistically focused.

Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools recognizes and affirms the vital service that school-based health and wellness centers provide to the country’s health care safety net. For the past several years, we have funded individual school-based health clinics in many of the regions in which it operates, including partnerships with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Trust for Children’s Health that have fostered growth of school-based health clinics noted in the California Healthline piece.

On a national level, Kaiser Permanente has invested more than $3.9 million in support for the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care (NASBHC) to advance obesity prevention, social and emotional health, school employee wellness and oral health care in schools. Both NASBHC and Kaiser Permanente believe that school-based health centers can play a critical role, not only in providing health care services in places where students, staff and teachers spend a majority of their day, but also in championing change from within the school environment so that schools become focal points for encouraging healthy eating and active living behaviors.

School-based health centers provide a compelling model for growing the health care safety net, especially in this time of health care reform. To better advance that strategic direction, NASBHC recently appointed physician and medical director for Community Benefit at Kaiser Permanente, Winston Wong MD, MS, to NASHBC’s board of directors to serve a two-year board term. It is hoped that Dr. Wong’s leadership and expertise in addressing the needs of underserved communities through safety net partnerships will inform the growth of school-based health care, ensuring that children and their families are healthy and living to their fullest potential.

Read the California Healthline article “School-Based Wellness Centers Making the Grade in Los Angeles.”

Read The California Report blog post “On-Campus Clinics, a Safety-Net for Neighborhood Children.”

Hear a recent podcast from California Healthline about California’s School-Based Health Centers and the Affordable Care Act.

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