Expert expects high demand for mental health care in midstate school
Jim Hook, Chambersburg Public Opinion | 08.31.16
Photo by Noelle Haro-Gomez, Public Opinion
Todd Johnson, left, and Jeff Reim look up and inspect the ceiling for their next move as they get the clinic ready at Chambersburg Area High School on Friday, August 26, 2016 in Chambersburg, Pa.
(Chambersburg) -- Mental health services will be in great demand when the health clinic opens next week inside the Chambersburg Area Senior High School, according to Joanne Cochran, president and CEO of Keystone Health.
She bases her forecast on the performance of many of the 2,000 school clinics that have opened in other states.
The Keystone Pediatrics Clinic opens in the high school on Sept. 6. Students can visit the clinic between 8 a.m. and noon on school days.
"We will take care of earaches, sore throats, sexually transmitted diseases and constipation," Cochran said. "Parents are not having to take off work. Kids are going to miss less school."
Students with health clinics in their schools have been more willing to seek help for sensitive issues such as depression, suicide attempts, weight problems and pregnancy prevention, she said. Attendance, dropout rates and classroom behavior have improved in schools with health clinics.
Bullying remains a big issue in schools, and anti-bullying laws require teachers and principals to get help to bullied students. Much is cyber bullying done on social media after school hours, according to Chambersburg Area School District Superintendent Joseph Padasak.
"School is a hard place for many young people," Cochran said. "They might be labeled as 'low achieving' or 'angry' or 'defiant.' When these young people come into a space that lifts up their hopes and dreams, they are able to re-position themselves in their own lives and within the school community as activists, artists, advocates and leaders. This chance to matter, to be an agent of change, has a profound impact on young people's sense of themselves."
Parents are to receive a letter and consent forms from the high school this week. By completing and signing the forms, a parent gives permission for his or her child to visit the clinic during the school year. The forms are to come home with the CASHS student handbook. About half of all families are expected to sign up the first year.
Students, with the initial parental permission, can freely visit the clinic, just as they can visit the school health room.
"Kids are free to go to the school nurse," Cochran said. "The school nurse will be our triage."
Last year CASHS nurses saw an average of 35 students a day for illnesses and 10 a day for injuries, according to CASHS data. Each day eight students were sent home for health reasons.
Each week about four students had serious enough school injuries that they got immediate treatment or took time off school.
School nurses cannot diagnose or treat disease.
"A nurse can't give aspirin," Padasak said.
But at the same time, the nurse's office offers sanctuary.
"Our kids feel comfortable with the nurse's office," Padasak said. "Our nurses become mental health people in the school."
The health clinic, located next door to the school nurse's health room, will staffed by a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner, and a nurse mid-wife and a licensed clinical social worker.
"My doctors will contact parents on everything except sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy," Cochran said.
It's simply a privacy issue. When it comes to STDs or pregnancy, students are given a choice, whether at the school clinic or another Keystone clinic: Students can give their insurance information to the clinic, in which case their parents will be notified; or they can get free care from the clinic, in which case parents will not be notified. Kids typically opt to keep their conditions private.
Keystone has a contract with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to provide free diagnosis and treatment of STDs in the Franklin County.
"We encourage kids to talk to their parents," Cochran said. "We have parents bringing their kids in for STDs. Do we want kids to have pelvic inflammatory disease and die, or do we treat them? We treat them."
The clinic also will have condoms. Students currently can ask for condoms from the CASHS nurse, who has access to an assortment of male and female condoms, according to Padasak.
The rate of sexually transmitted diseases in Franklin County's younger population is three times the state average, according to Cochran.
The county had 286 cases of chlamydia, 35 cases of gonorrhea and 4 cases of syphilis diagnosed in young people (15 to 24 years old ), according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Each year 40 CASHS students become pregnant, according to Padasak.
The school clinic will operate as a satellite of Keystone Health where more than 80 percent of students already receive health care, Cochran said.
"This is one of the most important things Keystone has done," Cochran said.
She eventually wants to add immunizations and dental care to the school clinic.
The clinic offers medical care for all students, even those without health insurance.
"When students without health insurance coverage get sick, they are less likely to seek help," Cochran said.
That hinders their performance in school and strains the health care system in the long run, she said.
For more information call Keystone at 717-709-7900.
This story comes to WITF through a partnership with the Chambersburg Public Opinion.
Published in Healthcare Transformation