School health clinic opens next month

When the doors open at Vashon’s public schools next week, students and their families will have another option for health care: Neighborcare’s new clinic at the high school.It will offer no-cost medical, dental and mental health care to island families with school-age children.

News of the clinic first began to spread in May, when King County Executive Dow Constantine held a press conference in Seattle, announcing that $4 million worth of funding would be provided to area agencies from the Best Starts for Kids levy, including $766,000 to construct and operate this new clinic. Now, the clinic is set to open in its interim space in the main administrative office at the high school, staff have been hired, and some services have been arranged for McMurray and Chautauqua as well. Last May, Superintendent Michael Soltman expressed enthusiasm for the new clinic and services it will provide — feelings he reiterated last week.

“I think it is a huge win for our students and our community to have these resources available right on campus,” he said.

“I am thrilled we are going to be able to have such high quality … care without students having to leave campus.”

In the beginning of the school year, students will receive an information packet to take home about the new services, including consent forms. Neighborcare’s School-Based Health Program Manager Alyssa Pyke stressed that the forms are key to students receiving services, as they allow providers to care for children and teens when their parents are not present. District nurse Sarah Day encouraged parents to return the paperwork promptly.

“It is important that we get the paperwork signed,” she said. “We are lucky to have the clinic. Let’s make it successful.”

Neighborcare’s Mary Schilder, director of marketing communications, recently provided details regarding the clinic’s services. At the high school clinic, services will include medical, dental and mental health care; all students, regardless of what school they attend on the island or if they are homeschooled, can go to that clinic. Medical services provided will include evaluation and treatment of common health problems, sports physicals, vaccinations and reproductive health care.

Gabrielle Douthitt, Neighborcare’s medical director for the school-based health program, noted that Washington state law allows students to receive some services without parental notification or consent: mental health care and drug and alcohol treatment at 13, treatment for sexually transmitted infections at 14 and birth control at any age.

“That is the law,” she said. “Youth could go to any clinic and they would have the right to have those services.”

However, she said that Neighborcare providers prefer to involve whole families and spend time exploring with youth how they could have healthy communication around some of the topics they may have sought confidential care for.

“We would like to have parents involved, that would be the ideal,” she added. “Our goal is to help them (students) have that conversation.”

In addition the services provided at the high school, middle and elementary school, students will be able to receive mental health services at Chautauqua. Those services will include individual, family and group counseling and crisis intervention.

Dental services will rotate among all three schools, Schilder said, with the schedule determined in part by the results of school-wide dental screenings. The screenings consist of a Neighborcare dentist providing a brief visual inspection of students’ mouths for visible decay. Parents give permission for those screenings and can choose to have a fluoride application for their children at that time.

After the screenings, Neighborcare staff will inform parents of the findings and help them connect to dental care at the school or elsewhere if they aren’t connected to a dentist.

For all services, insurance will be billed if students’ families have it, but Pyke said no copays will be collected or bills sent home. If there are families that want to pay for services, that can be arranged, Pyke added, but the intent of the clinic is to make sure students receive the care they need, and not charging families for services is part of that.

“It is a better way to make it a welcome and safe space for youth. We want to make it as easy as possible to access care,” she said.

With the clinic set to open soon, staff has been hired, including nurse practitioner Crystal Bensen, who will open the clinic at Vashon High School. She has 14 years of experience, including at school clinics, and she is excited about this new launch, Douthitt said. She will only be in the position temporarily, however, and the clinic’s permanent provider is expected to come on later this fall. Mental health therapists who have been hired are Anna Waldman, who previously worked as the school district’s intervention and prevention specialist and who will work at the high school clinic, and Marci Napoli, who has worked at Vashon Youth & Family Services and will work at Chautauqua. Stephanie Keller, the former clinic administrator at Neighborcare’s Sunrise Ridge clinic, will manage the school-based health center.

Soltman noted that he expects work will begin soon on the permanent clinic, which will be located near the band room. Construction could begin within eight to 10 weeks, with a move-in date as soon as the beginning of the new year.

Neighborcare operates a dozen school-based clinics in Seattle, and Pyke and Douthitt say there are many benefits to such clinics for youth and their parents. If care is needed, students do not have to take more time than necessary out of school, and parents do not have to leave work to take a child to an appointment. Previously, Douthitt said that research indicates that as time in class increases, so do grade point averages and graduation rates. Also, she said, when mental health services are located in schools, students are far more likely to access those services than if they are elsewhere in the community.

Douthitt noted Neighborcare staff are happy to have conversations about the clinic and what people might like to see develop there.

“The purpose is to provide services and assist the community and be a resource for people,” she said. “We are open to talking with families and community members about how we can best serve youth on Vashon. We want to be open and responsive to what the community’s needs are.”

Contact Neighborcare Health at Vashon Island High School at 206-548-7550. The clinic will be open to students before, during and after school. It will be closed during school holidays and summer break.

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