Bringing healthcare access directly to students

Valley Center Public Schools and KU School of Medicine-Wichita are partnering in a new pilot program for a school-based health clinic.
Published: Dec. 20, 2020 at 9:50 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - When Valley Center students return to learning in-person, there will be a new health resource for them in the new year.

Students and staff will have access to healthcare providers from the KU School of Medicine-Wichita as part of a new pilot program creating a school-based healthcare clinic.

“The last few years, there’s been a group of physicians and practitioners like myself on the school side, talking about the need to take care of our students, all-encompassing.” Valley Center Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Cory Gibson said, “That’s social-emotional, physical health. We know that when students are well taken care of, they’re more likely to achieve academically as well.”

Superintendent Dr. Cory Gibson said Valley Center Public Schools is taking the next step in addressing their students ' encompassing needs.

“Here in Valley Center, we’ve really tried to become more encompassing and take care of the whole child. Schools as a whole have taken on more responsibilities over the years beyond instruction,” he said. “Recently, we did partner with COMCARE to help facilitate some social-emotional and psychological support for our kids, but we were still missing the other component, and that’s the physical health of students, and we know that’s just as important.”

To address physical health, the district is launching a new pilot program with the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita Medical Practice Association to develop a school-based health clinic. It’s set to open up in January at the high school.

“Our pilot project is going to be around the idea of similar to an acute care, urgent care clinic way to provide healthcare to students who may show up to school feeling a little under the weather, a little sick.” University of Kansas School of Medicine Wichita - Medical Practice Association Executive Director Aaron Ryan said, “Certainly, we are excited to be able to help out the existing school health care staff with any COVID-related needs in terms of testing, diagnostics assessments, and the staff as well.”

While the idea for something like this pre-dates the arrival of COVID-19, the pandemic has reinforced the need for a service like this.

While addressing the virus will be one of the clinic’s goals when it opens, it will also be there to treat students and staff for other illnesses, sports injuries and chronic conditions like asthma. It adds to the health services already provided by the district.

“It will allow for onsite diagnosis and treatment to handle illness that appears and school, and it just allows a quicker identification and mitigation of kids that might show up to school sick,” said University of Kansas School of Medicine Wichita Pediatrician Dr. Stephanie Kuhlmann. “I think, also, through the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase of certainly anxiety and depression in children and youth, and this will help augment and be able to screen for those there onsite and it will help augment some of the traditional serves that the school is already providing. It will help complement the school nursing program.”

One of the biggest hopes for a program like this, Dr. Gibson said, is to reduce interruption in education.

“At this time, when every minute counts in the classroom. Literally, every minute counts,” said Dr. Gibson. “Anytime that we can try to stop the number of subs needed or prevent the number of learning loss due to subs or other cases when students had to be gone, that’s a plus in the school. We appreciate the partnership. As a pilot, we know there’s a lot of work and things that have yet to be worked out, but certainly, through the partnership, I believe it will be not only good for our staff but our students as well.”

Ryan said, “A lot of community research that Dr. Gibson accumulated over the years really indicates that drive time and needing to take time off work and pull the kids out of school to go someplace else to see a primary care physician has really been a barrier to care to the community over time and so hopefully we’ll start chipping away at that a little bit.”

“Studies show that when kids have access to all-encompassing healthcare that they certainly do well and perform well and certainly having a school-based healthcare clinic gives them access to medical care onsite without the increased time away from class by traveling in and out to Wichita for physician appointments,” said Dr. Kuhlmann.

This is the first time KU School of Medicine-Wichita has been involved in a school-based healthcare clinic.

When the clinic opens, it will be funded through different grants, but the hope is to show sustainability.

“Financial sustainability is certainly one,” said Ryan. “We hope that we will be able to gather some data that we can use in our advocacy efforts to maybe expand our school-based health offerings in the state as well.”

Currently, the pilot program’s agreement runs between January 2021 through the end of May 2021, but the hope is to keep this clinic going on into the next school year.

This was planned for quite some time, and it was a desire of ours and a dream of ours for a long while. The pandemic has taught us the importance of partnering together,” Dr. Gibson said. “I think for the first time, the pandemic really forced us to collaborate outside our doors a bit, and this is just an example of what great things can happen when you do partner with those outside our normal group, which is educators.”

The clinic will be staffed with KU School of Medicine-Wichita pediatricians and nurses.

“We know in pediatrics, adolescents tend to fall through the cracks sometimes or may not be as compliant with some of their routine medical care,” said Dr. Kuhlmann. “This is just another opportunity and avenue for them to be able to access care.”

More information will be provided to parents and students about accessing the clinic in the coming weeks.

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