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DOH grants students access to health services

POULSBO — North Kitsap School District students may soon have more access to health services right at their back door.

The Washington Department of Health has issued $20,000 grants to 11 school districts across the state to study the need for and develop school-based health centers.

NKSD was one of the 11 chosen for the funding.

North Kitsap High School Principal Kathy Prasch, Teen Parent Program Administrator (TPPA) Janis Nixon and community members Renee Arcement and Jane Pearson, who’s also a nurse, spearheaded the grant application process.

Prash is overjoyed at the news.

“We were really excited because this is something the community members thought would be good for our kids,” Prasch said.

She said the grant is especially important in light of the plethora of mental health issues facing today’s youth. She said oftentimes parents can’t afford health insurance for their kids and potential problems get lost in the cracks. Dental health is also usually overlooked and in general there’s a lack of access for student health care.

Prasch’s thinking is right on target.

According to a March 19 DOH press release, “Teens are the least likely group to get the physical, oral and mental health care they need. In Washington, more than one out of three adolescents has not seen a physician or health care provider in the last year for preventative care.”

Judy Schoder with the DOH Office of Maternal and Child Health said a 2003 national survey of children’s health found that only 41 percent of Washington’s youth “utilized a consistent source of care in a medical home” and only 33.3 percent of the state’s adolescent population eligible for the Early Childhood Screening Diagnostic Treatment program received access.

“That represents the lowest utilization of any age group eligible for that program,” Schoder said.

While the grant funds are earmarked for studying the need, it’s a giant step in the right direction for implementing a health center.

Prasch said the center will be housed at the NKHS campus to provide access for students living in the district’s south end, because a health center already exists in the north end at Spectrum Community School.

She said the aim is to offer minimal services by the first few weeks of the 2008-09 school year.

But before then, a lot of work awaits.

An oversight committee has formed to find local health providers to partner with, ways to secure additional funding and garnish community input to determine the specific health needs of NKSD students.

Community surveys, which will be complied before school lets out, will be used to determine the need.

Prasch envisions the clinic having an individual to address oral health and a nurse practitioner. And The NKHS remodel will allow for classroom space to house the clinic, Prasch said.

“The intent is to provide the services free of charge and we would like a more full-service clinic,” she said. “Our goal is to emulate what is already in existence at Spectrum.”

If the dreams of an NKHS center come true and it’s similar to Spectrum’s center, the students stand to reap monumental benefits.

Candy Cardinal coordinates Spectrum’s clinic and is the public health educator for the Kitsap County Health District (KCHD). The clinic at Spectrum has been open for approximately five years and it’s always busy, Cardinal said.

“We consistently have 80 percent of the student population using the services at the clinic. It’s busy every hour I’m here,” she said. “I can tell you honestly the main thing we do is a lot of mental health.”

A nurse practitioner who can diagnose and write prescriptions is at the clinic two days a week, an adolescent mental health therapist is at the clinic one-and-a-half days, and one day a week Cardinal is there promoting health and prevention.

Students come in for sport physicals, depression, substance abuse, reproductive health and fitness and nutrition.

The DOH contracted with KCHD to provide technical assistance to districts that received DOH grant funds and Cardinal will also serve as NKSD’s health center support person.

She said the most important component of student health centers is access.

“Students need access to a health system in school,” she said. “Access is the biggest thing.”

Once the students get access, they’ll come.

According to the DOH release ,more than 5,000 Washington students enrolled in school-based health services last year and reported that getting health services at school helped them be more attentive in class.

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