young girl at checkup

School-Based Health Centers Improve Access to Healthcare for Students

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A student wants to try out for the school soccer team, but can't because a sports physical is required for participation and Medicaid only allows one physical a year and the additional cost for a physical is prohibitive. Another student has had a sore throat for days, but going to the doctor would require his parents take off work, resulting in losing wages from their hourly employment. Another family is wondering how to support their middle school student who is growing more depressed and disengaged by the day.

Since many doctor's offices only offer appointments during the day, when many parents are working, it can be difficult for students - especially in under-resourced areas - to receive access to healthcare. And we know when students aren't feeling well, it's harder to learn and do well in school. 

One of the ways OnTrack Greenville helps to ensure its mission of seeing every student in Greenville, SC stay in school, is by addressing the lack of access to healthcare many students face. In partnership with Prisma Health and the Bradshaw Institute for Community Child Health & Advocacy, School-Based Health Centers were integrated into four area middle schools, and has recently expanded to include an elementary and high school. 


What is a School-Based Health Center?

School-Based Health Centers (SBHCs) can provide more comprehensive healthcare for students than a school nurse within the schools where they are based. Managed by certified nurse practitioners and directly linked to Prisma Health's wide array of healthcare resources, SBHCs allow students to receive non-emergent healthcare services while at school, including treatment of acute illness, e-prescribing prescriptions, administration of over-the-counter medications, nutrition counseling and health prevention and illness care education. 

The SBHCs within Greenville County Schools also provide referrals for other services, such as mental health and dental care. With added support of telemedicine equipment, the SBHC team ensures students have access to medical services every day school is in session.

According to data from the School-Based Health Alliance, school-based health centers:

  • help students do better in school
  • increase high school graduation rates
  • decrease school discipline cases

Based on early implementation and impact evaluation highlight reports, from 2015-2018;  97% of students who visited the OnTrack Greenville SBHCs returned to class and resumed learning.

Leveraging School-Based Health to Increase Sports Activity

The School-Based Health Centers did not have a vision to provide sports physicals when they opened in Greenville County Schools in 2015. However, with one call from a principal to the medical director, asking if it was possible, sports physicals began being provided to students. In order to participate in school sports, students are required to have a current sports physical on file. Medicaid only provides one free physical per year. Sports physicals required by other carriers can be cost prohibitive, and the coordination and transportation required to obtaint them can also be barriers for parents and students.

So, beginning in 2016, the SBHCs provided free sports physicals within the OnTrack Greenville middle schools. More than 270 free sports physicals were completed for the 2017-2018 academic year, which led to the creation of new sports teams and significantly higher rates of sports participation.

Studies have shown that participating on a school team has positive impact on academic performance, and is associated with decreased high school dropout rates. Not only are students better off for participating in sports, it is also a way for SBHC teams to connect with families, build relationships with more students, identify potential health concerns, and connect students to appropriate care.

"The SBHC has given our female athletes a chance to shine on our athletic fields and courts more now than ever before. We had three times more female athletes participate in this year's tryouts than years past; I contribute this significant change to the SBHC program," said Elizabeth Harris King, Berea Middle School Athletic Director.

The success of SBHCs in the pilot program is already leading to plans to scale across more schools in Greenville, including widening the telemedicine platform. 

Found in: School Solutions


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