A short walk is all it takes for a student needing a medical professional at one of the five school-based health centers operated by Mosaic Medical, a community health organization, in Central Oregon.
They’re a valuable resource that helps to reduce absenteeism and are seen as a safety net by medical practitioners.
Soon there will be six Mosaic-run centers on school campuses in Central Oregon. Mosaic Medical, in partnership with Bend La-Pine Schools, plans to open a new one at Mountain View High School in Bend in May.
Two other school-based centers are operated by St. Charles Health System and the La Pine Community Health Center. That brings the total to eight of these school-based health centers in Central Oregon. These health centers reduce stress for parents who don’t need to take a half day off work to get their child in to see a medical professional. A school-based health center takes appointments and walk-in patients, streamlining the process. These centers generally are small and are open four or five days a week.
Like all Mosaic patients, students pay on a sliding scale. No one is turned away, said Elaine Knobbs-Seasholtz, Mosaic Medical director of strategy and development.
“The dream is to have one in every school, but at a minimum at every high school,” Knobbs-Seasholtz said. “The mission is to eliminate as many barriers as possible to help people access health centers. Locating a health center on school grounds removes the barrier of transportation.”
School-based health centers make it convenient and easy for students and families to get medical attention they need, said Scott Maben, Bend-La Pine school district director of communications.
“Having access to health care on or near school grounds is a tremendous benefit for students and families,” Maben said. “It’s also helpful for parents or guardians who may not be able to get time off from work to take their kids to the doctor.”
High school students 16 and older don’t need parental permission to use one of the centers. Anyone from birth to 18 can come to one of these clinics, not just students. Services run the gamut from annual exams, dental to mental health, Knobbs-Seasholtz said.
“Sometimes when a child comes in for a problem with their stomach hurting or their head hurting, it’s usually an indication of a mental health issue and the clinic can help with that whole body well-being,” Knobbs-Seasholtz said. “It’s empowering for young people to go to a trusted entity to ask questions.”
The busiest school-based center is at Redmond High School, where two pediatricians rotate their time. And in Prineville and Madras, the school-based centers are the only places focusing on pediatric health.
At Mountain View High School, Mosaic anticipates the medical team will see about 2,000 to 3,000 patients a month, said Tamarra Harris, Mosaic Medical pediatric clinic manager. It’s taken about two years for the Mountain View center to make its way through the process. First it took nine months to get permits approved and then, when the school district went out for construction bids, they came in double the amount of money budgeted, Harris said.
Mosaic stepped back, revised its plan and reached out to the community for funds. The Bend Foundation donated $15,730; Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation donated $15,000; the Oregon Community Foundation donated $50,000, and First Interstate BancSystem Foundation donated $10,000, according to Mosaic. The project is in partnership with Bend-La Pine Schools and the Deschutes County Health Services.
“It’s taken a village to get us here,” Harris said. “Our goal is to meet the need of youth and family where they are at. This way we can reduce absences and respond quickly to illnesses.”
Statewide, there are 81 school-based health centers in 26 Oregon counties that follow a national model. Ten are at elementary schools, six in middle schools, 52 in high schools and 13 in combined grade campuses.
These school-based centers across Oregon saw more than 126,000 visits with about 40,000 school-age children from July 2021 to June 2022, according to data supplied by the Oregon Health Authority.
“From our perspective from the state, these school-based health centers are safety net clinics that increase care in health provider shortage areas and to reduce barriers,” said Kate O’Donnell, Oregon Health Authority School-based Health Systems program coordinator. “Oregon has one of the strongest systems. We get calls from other states on how we started this.”
The first school-based clinic was in Pendleton, O’Donnell said. In surveys, students have said they wouldn’t have sought treatment had it not been for the health center on campus, she said.
“From an equity standpoint, it provides m ore access and helps with suicide prevention and mental health,” she said. “Having a supportive adult and easy access is important to young people.”
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