SEDRO-WOOLLEY — The Sedro-Woolley School Board on Monday authorized Superintendent Phil Brockman to draft an agreement with PeaceHealth United General Medical Center to open a student health center at Sedro-Woolley High School.
School district representatives said the on-campus center would provide convenient access to health care for students and alleviate the need for parents to remove students from class and leave work to take them to a doctor’s office.
With the school board’s approval to move forward, Brockman will work with PeaceHealth to draft an agreement outlining services that will be provided at the center and bring that agreement back to the school board for approval.
The five-member school board voted unanimously to allow Brockman to take that step.
“They had a statement that they voted on that was me asking for approval to provide space for a school-based health center in Sedro-Woolley High School beginning in August 2019,” Brockman said.
The vote came after about two years of discussions involving the school district, Skagit County Public Health, PeaceHealth and researchers including in the University of Washington’s School Mental Health Assessment Research and Training program.
It also follows a community survey in which 92 percent of parents in the school district — of the about 1,900 who responded — showed support for the on-campus health center.
The idea of opening a school-based health center to serve students at Sedro-Woolley and State Street high schools has, however, raised concerns among some parents in recent months when it comes to access to contraceptives and other sexual and reproductive health services.
Brockman said three community members spoke on those issues before the board voted Monday, stating they opposed the on-campus health center due to the access it will provide to reproductive services including contraceptives, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy tests.
The idea is to provide a walk-in clinic where students can receive treatment for injuries, infections or illness as well as physicals, immunizations and mental health referrals.
Health center staff can also prescribe medications, but those prescriptions will need to be filled — and paid for — at a pharmacy.
Use of the center, however, will require student enrollment with approval from their guardians. Enrollment will also enable the on-campus center staff to work with the student’s primary care provider.
“For students, this doesn’t replace their primary care provider, if they have one. This kind of acts like an urgent care,” said Sedro-Woolley School Board President Christina Jepperson, who is an advanced registered nurse practitioner in Mount Vernon. “And for kids who don’t have a primary care provider, this is an opportunity to have one.”
Pending school board approval of the agreement drafted with PeaceHealth, Brockman said he expects the center to open to students in August.
The center will include a reception area and two exam rooms in a space that has been used as offices for counseling and student government in the past.
PeaceHealth will staff the center with an advanced registered nurse practitioner and a mental health specialist, Brockman said, and will likely operate primarily during school hours.
Visits to the center would be billed the same way as with any other provider, with Medicaid and insurance accepted, and PeaceHealth would cover expenses for students not covered by insurance.
While school-based health centers are found throughout the state and nation, Jepperson said Sedro-Woolley School District’s would be the first in Skagit County.
She said for many students, seeing a doctor can take several hours because the largest concentration of primary care providers is in Mount Vernon.
“It’s convenience and it’s access,” Brockman said. “Instead of missing half a day of school, you’re missing 20 minutes.”
Having access to a health center where students can independently address their health needs also provides practice before leaving for college, Jepperson said.
“It opens access to education about their bodies, about medications, about self-care, and gives them a chance to practice interviews with a provider about their medical history,” she said.
Brockman also said studies have shown that attendance and learning performance is better among students who have access to health care on campus.