School-based health clinic set for closure

Nurse practitioner Gretchen Berni, left, talks with senior Bobbie Weyand in the health clinic at Spectrum Community School. The clinic, originally a janitorial room, will close next year. - Brad Camp/For the Herald
Nurse practitioner Gretchen Berni, left, talks with senior Bobbie Weyand in the health clinic at Spectrum Community School. The clinic, originally a janitorial room, will close next year.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Herald

all from the main entrance to Spectrum Community School, 18-year-old senior Bobbie Weyand sits in a small white room. Sexual awareness posters hang on the walls around her. Nurse practitioner Gretchen Berni sits across a desk, patiently listening as Weyand talks about her health and personal life.

Funding for this school-based health clinic, the only of its kind in the county, will be eliminated next year, the Kitsap County Health District recently announced. The program has just $50,000 left to operate, and will shut its doors when the money runs out at the end of the school year — if not before.

“It’s really sad,” Weyand said. “It’s also a lot easier to use the clinic than it is to go to a regular doctor.”

The clinic is in its seventh year, and has been available to students at nearby Kingston High School since 2009. Berni said the clinic will be forced to run on a skeleton schedule until its funding dries up.

It is normally staffed by a registered nurse on Mondays and Thursdays, a mental health therapist on Wednesdays and a health educator on Fridays. Beginning Jan. 1, the registered nurse will work two half-days while the therapist continues to work one day per week.

Before the clinic shuts down, the focus of the staff will be to help students find alternative healthcare, Berni said. Informing students of healthcare outside the clinic has already begun and there are plenty of options, but not all as accessible as the clinic.

Families may apply for Apple Insurance, a student-based insurance plan, as well as community clinics. However, not all families who have come to rely on the free clinic will be accepted.

Students that have limited modes of transportation will have the most difficulty, especially those with little or no family support, Berni said.

“This will be a loss for some students,” she said.

The clinic opened in 2003 after a rash of six student suicides. It was originally focused on mental health issues to provide counseling, but expanded outside of that quickly.

Now, students come and go to the clinic to discuss personal issues with any one of the three staff members.

“I really like all of them, I can talk about things I can’t with anyone else,” Weyand said. She has enjoyed getting to know the three people that staff the clinic, she added.

About to celebrate her nineteenth birthday, Weyand is preparing to find her own health care after graduation. Now that need may come before the end of the school year.

A community report states during the 2009-2010 school year more than 50 students from KHS visited the clinic for the first time and about 40 Spectrum students visited for the first time. During the same year, the clinic saw more than 150 returning students visiting the clinic from both schools.

Mental health visits were almost equal in number as the clinic saw more than 100 returning students from both schools during the 2009-10 year.

The Health District announced the cut in funding to help absorb a $1.4 million drop in revenue. The clinic cost about $109,000 to run during the 2009-10 school year.

Though the clinic is based in a school, the school district does not provide funding except basic services, such as janitorial.

“The purpose of this health service was to give students a comfortable setting,” said Health District spokesperson Chris Craig. “Unfortunately, the school district has never been able to help fund this program ... It’s very hard for schools to have extra money for anything these days.”

Though the $50,000 is planned to last through the rest of the 2010-2011 school year, Craig said when the money runs out the clinic will shut down immediately.

For students, this means finding an alternative source of care will need to happen soon.

“I’m pretty much just like, whatever, right now; but I’m really comfortable with the people at Spectrum,” Weyand said. “If there is something wrong I can always get help. That’s what Spectrum is, everyone gets along.”

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