SEDRO-WOOLLEY — The Sedro-Woolley School Board will potentially decide Monday whether to open a health care center on the Sedro-Woolley High School campus — and what services that center would provide to students.
For the past two years, the district, in partnership with Skagit County Public Health and PeaceHealth United General Medical Center, has been exploring options for a school-based health center to serve students at Sedro-Woolley and State Street high schools.
“We know we need a lot more access to health care for our kids,” Sedro-Woolley School District Superintendent Phil Brockman said at a recent public meeting. “We know that kids that have access stay in school. They’re in the classroom (and) their attendance is better.”
School-based health centers, which generally offer mental health and primary care services, are found at schools nationwide, including in more than 50 schools throughout the state.
“They help engage students to be more informed consumers of health care services,” said Julie de Losada, health analyst with Skagit County Public Health. “It’s a place where (students) feel like they can trust the service providers.”
If approved, Sedro-Woolley’s would be the first along the Interstate 5 corridor north of Bothell.
Brockman, who came to Sedro-Woolley in 2013 after years in the Seattle Public Schools system, said each of the three high schools at which he was principal in that district had student-based health centers on its campus.
“It was great for the kids and the community,” Brockman said. “The access to health care was phenomenal.”
The centers provide immediate and convenient access for students, de Losada said. Instead of being off campus for a doctors appointment that may require a parent or guardian to transport them, students can access services on campus.
“The best part is that it’s a primary care clinic,” said Sedro-Woolley School Board President Christina Jepperson, who is an advanced registered nurse practitioner. “So anything you would normally go to your primary care doctor or your family practice doctor for.”
The health center
The on-campus health center would increase access to medical services for students who may not otherwise be able to access them due to insurance or scheduling, Jepperson said.
For a parent, taking a child to an off-campus medical practitioner can be a timely process — sometimes taking the student out of class for hours, she said.
“It really opens it up for kids who can’t get to their normal doctor for things like ear infections,” she said.
During its five years in Sedro-Woolley, PeaceHealth has been dedicated to providing access to health care for the community, Chief Administrative Officer Chris Johnston.
“The goal has always been access for this community,” he said. “We see the student population as a vulnerable population. When this opportunity was presented to us, we viewed this as a distinct opportunity.”
If approved, the center would be staffed by a licensed ARNP provided by PeaceHealth. The ARNP could provide services such as physicals, immunizations and treatment for flu.
The center ARNP would have the ability to give mental health referrals, Brockman said.
“We have very limited resources in Skagit Valley for mental health care,” Jepperson said. “Especially for pediatric mental health care.”
According to data obtained through the statewide 2018 Healthy Youth Survey, 42% of Sedro-Woolley high school seniors, 38% of sophomores and 35% of eighth graders reported feeling depressed for at least two weeks in the past year.
When it comes to suicide, 22% of eighth graders and sophomores, and 23% of seniors report considering suicide in the past year. And 7% of seniors, 12% of sophomores and 10% of eighth graders reported having attempted suicide in the past year.
“That’s a call to action,” de Losada said. “That’s something we need to respond to.”
As part of the primary care services offered, the centers generally provide reproductive and sexual health counseling, and services such as contraceptives, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy testing and neonatal services, de Losada said.
While center staff would promote abstinence first, the ARNP would be able to provide contraceptives, de Losada said.
According to the Healthy Youth Survey, 27% of Sedro-Woolley sophomores and 51% of seniors reported they have had sex. Sixteen percent of seniors reported having had four or more partners.
In Skagit County, 20 of every 1,000 births are by women between the ages of 15 to 20, according to Public Health. Statewide, that rate is 14 per 1,000.
“It’s happening,” de Losada said. “The students are having sex.”
According to county data, in 2018, 29% of chlamydia infections in Skagit County were among those under the age of 20.
Center staff would not, however, provide emergency contraception, abortions or abortion service referrals, Johnston said.
Financially, he said the center will operate the same as any other, with insurance or Medicaid being billed for the services.
If the student is not covered by insurance or Medicaid, the services will be paid for by PeaceHealth, he said.
At the recent public meeting, some parents expressed concern about the on-campus medical center staff being able to discuss contraception options with students.
By state law, Brockman said, that information is already included in the district’s sexual education curriculum.
According to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Healthy Youth Act of 2008 states schools “must assure” students receive “medically and scientifically accurate” sexual health information, including “information about abstinence and other methods of preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, neither to the exclusion of the other.”
Aside from being used for contraception, birth control pills have other medical value, such as treatment of acne and irregular or heavy menstrual cycles, Jepperson said.
“This isn’t going to be a condom clinic,” Jepperson said. “This really is primary care services. This isn’t any different than if you would go see your primary care or family doctor for.”
At the meeting, some parents also expressed concern over a state law that allows minors over the age of 13 to receive confidential medical services.
That means a student of that age receiving services at the on-campus health center could request their parents not be informed.
While center staff would discuss with the students the reasons they don’t want to inform their parents, ultimately staff would have to abide by the law, de Losada and Johnston said.
The board is set to meet to discuss the proposal and the community feedback it has received before its Monday meeting, where it may then make a decision, Jepperson said.
If approved, the district would like to have the center ready for operation by fall, Brockman said.