Affordable Care Act spurs expansion of school-based health centers

October 1, 2011

By INDU SPUGNARDI

The government is allocating grant money to improve health centers serving schoolchildren, and ministry members that run such centers are among the recipients.

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced awards of $95 million to 278 school-based health center programs across the country. Established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the grants will help school clinics expand and provide more health care services.

According to HHS, the awardees currently serve about 790,000 patients. The grants will enable them to increase their capacity by over 50 percent, so they can serve an additional 440,000 patients. School-based health centers aim to improve children's health and wellness through health screenings, health promotion and disease prevention and enable children with acute or chronic illnesses to attend school.

"These new investments will help school-based health centers establish new sites or upgrade their current facilities to keep our children healthy," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "These new or improved sites will help ensure effective, efficient, and high-quality care."

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said school clinics are of personal interest to him, because when he was head of Chicago's public schools, he saw the desperate need for better health care for students. With the addition of health centers based in schools, he said, the district saw grades rise.

"Many (students) said without those services there's just no way they would they have continued in school, they would have dropped out," he said. "These services can literally be life-transforming."

The Affordable Care Act appropriated a total of $200 million for 2010 through 2013 for the School-Based Health Center Capital Program to address capital needs in these centers. The funds are the first in a series of awards that will be made available to such centers under the Affordable Care Act.

Funding for school-based health centers is one of many ways the Affordable Care Act improves access to community-based and preventative health services, which are seen as critical to improving the health of the population and thereby controlling health care spending. The law provides funding to modernize the public health system, increase access to clinical preventive services and create healthier communities.

"By focusing on the underlying drivers of disease and on preventative services, the Affordable Care Act helps us move towards a true health care system that promotes health and well-being," says Julie Trocchio, CHA's senior director of community benefit and continuing care.

Several Catholic health care organizations are among the grant recipients. Ministry members in the group include:

  • CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health Care in San Antonio
  • CHRISTUS Health Central Louisiana, headquartered in Alexandria, La.
  • St. Francis Medical Center in Monroe, La.
  • St. Peter's Health Care Services in Albany, N.Y.
  • Sisters of Charity Hospital in Buffalo, N.Y.
  • St. Elizabeth Medical Center, Utica, N.Y.

These organizations are using the grants to support health center construction, renovation and equipment purchases that will increase access to care.

CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health Care plans to use the $350,000 it received to replace its aging pediatric mobile clinic. The mobile clinic offers free health care services to children on Medicaid and those who are uninsured. Rosario Perez, vice president of mission integration and outreach services for CHRISTUS Santa Rosa, notes that the mobile clinic has become a vital service as the state cuts funding for Medicaid and schools and as fewer physicians accept Medicaid.

Sisters of Charity Hospital, part of Catholic Health System, plans to use its $405,000 grant to set up electronic communications between its three school-based health centers and the hospital campus and to replace cots and furniture in the centers. Rachael Nees, Catholic Health System's director of grants, sees the enhanced communications between physicians, hospitals and labs as an important step to improve health outcomes for the children served by the clinic.

St. Elizabeth plans to use its grant money to offer additional services such as hearing tests and preventative health education. St. Elizabeth's clinic is based at Kernan Elementary School in West Utica, N.Y., where one in five families lives below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The clinic offers free services to students.

"In this social and economic environment, we have a lot of uninsured families," said St. Elizabeth's clinic coordinator Cathy Duvall. "This allows for families to seek primary care services they wouldn't normally be able to (access)."

 

Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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