- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Washington Times’ articles throughout the week of Aug. 4 that investigate the toll of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans four years after the storm highlight the continuing challenges the city’s residents face in accessing health care and mental-health care. Fortunately for some communities, school-based health centers (SBHCs), which are like a doctor’s office located in a school, offer students in the New Orleans area access to physical, mental and oral health care services.

Currently, there are five SBHCs in New Orleans this school year, with two more slated to open by the next school year. St. Bernard Parish opened its first SBHC in 2007, and Jefferson Parish has opened three new SBHCs over the past two years and has a fourth in the planning phase. There also are three school-linked community health centers in the New Orleans area that serve both students and community residents.

SBHCs in New Orleans are increasing access to mental and behavioral health services for students. Preliminary results from a 2008-09 SBHC Impact Survey — fielded by the School Health Connection program, which surveyed students from New Orleans Parish schools with and without SBHCs — indicate that students with access to a SBHC are more likely to have been seen by a behavioral health specialist and to be treated for a behavioral health issue.

SBHCs, which have been providing quality health care in our nation for 30 years, are a proven health care safety net for children and young adults. Because SBHCs are located on school campuses, medical staff are familiar with the students and can identify problems early, while providing a mechanism to follow up on chronic medical issues that often prevent students from attending school. In the New Orleans area, with many students still dealing with deep psychological wounds from the storms, mental health and substance abuse issues are also routinely diagnosed and addressed at the SBHCs.

While we work to rebuild health care service capacity in New Orleans and across the nation, let’s be sure to invest in SBHCs as an effective model to provide vital health care services to students where they can best access it — right in their schools.

MARSHA BROUSSARD

Program director, School Health Connection

Coordinated School Health Program of Metropolitan New Orleans

Louisiana Public Health Institute

New Orleans

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