PENN YAN — Here is a situation many parents have dealt with: A son or daughter isn’t feeling 100 percent but goes to school anyway — only for the parent to get a call from the school nurse to pick up the child and take him or her to the doctor or an urgent care facility.
While it likely won’t happen until sometime next year, that scenario could be a thing of the past in the Penn Yan school district.
District officials are working with Penn Yan-based Finger Lakes Community Health on starting a school-based health center in the nursing suite at Penn Yan Elementary. Mary Zelazny, chief executive officer of FL Community Health, recently made a presentation to the school board.
“School-based health centers are not a new concept around the country, although there are very few around here,” said Zelazny. “They are very successful because you get the kids where they are at — in the schools.”
She noted that there are several in Rochester schools, about 10 in Oswego County and many in New York City schools.
“We have been looking at this closely for the last three or four months,” school district Superintendent Howard Dennis added. “Two or three other organizations approached us, but not on the scale of what Mary has in mind.”
School-based health centers are partnerships between schools and community health organizations to provide on-site medical, dental, and mental health services to school-aged children with parental consent. Services would only be available to Penn Yan Elementary students, although the state could permit students from other schools in the district to use the center.
Services are provided at no out-of-pocket costs to families, although the center could bill insurance companies. Those revenues would be returned to the health center to support operations.
Zelazny said the center, which would need approval from the state Department of Health, would be ideal for children who don’t have a regular doctor or insurance. That approval could take up to six months or more.
“We all understand that if you get to these kids when they are young, whether it’s health, dental health or mental health, you can make positive changes in their lives,” she said. “I have a family member who is a teacher and I hear the frustration. We already see a lot of these kids at our community health center in Penn Yan, so I reached out to Howard and said we’re happy to discuss. If this is something that will help your students, we are happy to do it.”
Studies of school-based health centers have shown that students who use them have lower absenteeism and tardiness rates. Schools that have mental health services have a much lower rate of student discipline problems.
Studies also have shown that students who reported depression and suicide attempts were more willing to use a school-based clinic for counseling services. Students with perceived weight issues were more willing to use a clinic for nutrition information.
Zelazny said if approved, the center at Penn Yan Elementary would be staffed by either a doctor, physician assistant or nurse practitioner. School nurses also would be in the center.
She added that information on treatment a student gets at the center, including prescriptions, would be sent to the student’s primary care doctor. Any mental health services would be coordinated with agencies that already are providing those services.
“We are not going to supplant anybody. We are trying to do whatever it takes to serve this community,” she said. “This is going to be a partnership and everyone will be on board. Student-based health centers are a good model and have seen good outcomes for kids. We wouldn’t have reached out to the school district if this didn’t have potential, and we are willing to go down this road together.”
The next step will be forming an advisory committee. Dennis said district officials plan to visit a school-based health center at Genesee Valley in Allegany County.
“We will look at their site and see if there are any hurdles we can prepare for,” he said. “We are excited about partnering with an organization (Finger Lakes Community Health) that is very vested in Penn Yan and Yates County.”