Thornton High prepares for school-based health clinic

Clinic will provide full range of services to students, from physical exams to treatment for illnesses

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With health care becoming one of the biggest challenges facing Americans today, it’s no surprise that young people can feel especially overwhelmed and confused about where, when and how to receive medical attention.

“Health services need to be where students can trip over them,” said Norma Portnoy, executive director for Kids First Health Care, a nonprofit that helps provide health care to Adams County children who may not be able to afford such services. “Children don’t carry appointment books, and school is the only place where they are required to spend their time. “

Students at Thornton High School will get that extra convenience beginning with the 2017-18 school year as the school opens a new full-service, in-school clinic that is scheduled to be built over the summer break. The clinic is a combined effort between Adams 12 Five Star Schools district and Commerce City-based Kids First Health Care. It has been nearly two years in the making.

Meeting the needs of young people is especially important since they can’t do well in school if they are not in class, healthy and ready to learn, Portnoy said. Scheduling time off work for a parent and spending long hours waiting in doctor’s offices and urgent care centers can add to the burden of seeking medical help for children.

The School Based Health Clinic (SBHC) at Thornton High will provide students a full scale of services, including physical exams, immunizations, treatments of illnesses, infections and injuries, as well as mental health assessment and treatment including for drugs and alcohol.

Medical professionals will also offer students a safe haven for discussing confidential issues. That includes information and treatment on sexually-transmitted diseases, HIV testing, pregnancy testing and family-planning counseling and services.

Thornton High School is home to about 1,700 students and Principal Jennifer Skrobela believes the clinic will be a valuable asset for her diverse population of students.

“It’s a great way for parents to work with providers by phone and not have to take time off work,” said Skrobela. “Our parents are hard-working class families, and leaving work to take a child for care is time-consuming. The clinic will improve the overall health of our students, decrease absenteeism and increase parent involvement.”

The clinic idea first came up through the student-led Student Engagement Initiatives. Young people will continue to play an important role in their health and wellness, Skrobela said.

A youth advisory board has been established at the school and will meet weekly to plan health education initiatives for the student population. Areas of concern include distracted driving, marijuana and alcohol use, sex education and bullying.

Students of Thornton High and Bollman Technical School will have access to the clinic, which will be built in two renovated classrooms in the school. The initial cost of building the clinic has been funded through a $350,000 Colorado Health Foundation grant, $220,000 of the city’s Community Development Block Grant and $50,000 from Caring for Colorado.

The support from other foundations and the community has been overwhelming and positive, Skrobela said.

“I’m so thankful for the support of everyone involved, especially for the collaboration with Kids First Health Care,” Skrobela said. “The entire project has been funded by grants, and this has truly been a community effort.”

Construction is scheduled to being when school lets out in May, with plans for the clinic to be complete when students return for the new school year in August. Parents should watch for new paperwork in registration packets with more information and enrollment forms for clinic services.

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