School clinics facing cuts under proposed budget
NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) — It was a busy weekday morning. It was early, and Jean Palin had already sent a student home from school — the 16-year-old girl had tested positive for the flu.
“On average, I see 15 students a day,” said Palin, the nurse practitioner at New Britain High School’s school-based health center. “They come in with a wide variety of problems. . I do lots of physicals, vaccinations . and there’s sick visits — those are just walk-ins.”
Despite their popularity, the clinics face a 10 percent cut in funding under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget. That would reduce funding to $9.9 million for 93 clinics, less than the amount the state spent in 2010, when there were only 74 school-based health centers.
New Britain High School has 2,165 students, and about 1,300 of them have been enrolled in the school-based health center, which allows them to get medical, dental and behavioral health services all in the midst of their school day, without the hassle of leaving school grounds and without the worry of finding active health insurance coverage.
The site at New Britain High, which is run by Community Health Center, is one of 93 school-based health centers that receive state funding, but the centers also obtain funding through municipalities, boards of education and private sources, including Medicaid reimbursements and insurance billing.
The centers are located in schools in nearly every corner of the state — there are three in Groton, one in Chaplin, 11 in Stamford, and dozens of others in 23 municipalities.
On average, each site costs the state $123,000.
Responding to a question from State Rep. Mitch Bolinksy, R-Newtown, earlier this month, Benjamin Barnes, secretary of the office on policy and management, said this is another difficult budget year.
“We’ve been going through some tough years, and this budget is no different. . I can’t argue we’re being fair in everything. It’s not fair we have to reduce spending now because of the amount of available resources, but we must do that anyways,” Barnes said.
“School-based health centers run lean programs in terms of funds,” said Jesse White-Frese, executive director of the Connecticut Association of School Based Health Centers. “We’re concerned about the (proposed) cut and what that’ll impact and whether it’ll allow us to continue offering the highest level of service.”
Since fiscal year 2014 — when there were 96 centers — the decline in state funding has continued; in 2016, three centers closed because of lack of funding.
The centers have coped with budget cuts by closing facilities, reducing staff, limiting the days services are available to students and even reducing the months in which the health centers operate, White-Frese said.
“The school-based health centers keep kids in school and offers them a greater opportunity for learning,” White-Frese said.
The school-based health centers work closely with school nurses but they are fully licensed primary care facilities that can provide medical, dental and behavioral health services to any student who is enrolled in a school with a center and has obtained written parental permission. The student does not need health insurance to receive services.
It also offers students the opportunity to receive medical services they would not otherwise get.
Yasmel Sanchez, a senior at New Britain High School, is a “dreamer” — a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — and can’t obtain a health insurance plan without permanent residency, but she is still treated at the health-center, regardless of insurance or her status.
Yasmel, 19, has three advancement placement classes, a study hall and one certified nursing assistant course. When she is ill or needs a physical, or is injured during an evening cheerleading practice, she’ll visit the school-based health center and Palin or will treat her, advise her and, most importantly, allow her to resume to her duties.
“My mom usually works all day,” Yasmel said. “Once I come home, I have to head to practice and we don’t know when to schedule a doctor’s appointment, so it’s much easier for me to come (to the school-based health center.)”
Palin said other students are in situations similar to Yasmel’s who can obtain free care because of the health centers.
″(Without the center) I don’t think I would have an option,” Yasmel said. “I would have to treat whatever I have at home and hope it would just go away.”
Information from: Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com