ATLANTA – Attendance improves, and students learn more when total healthcare is offered at schools in poor neighborhoods, lawmakers were told Tuesday.
A task force from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends them. And a handful of representatives from the few existing centers recounted their experiences.
School-based healthcare centers are more than just a school nurse taking temperatures and putting Band-Aids on scrapes. They offer the services of physicians, dentists, psychologists, medical labs and usually social workers.
Mixing all these services together on the campus of a school means students whose parents have given permission can slip out of class for a half hour for appointments and then return to their desks.
“One of our concerns was missing a whole day of school for an hour’s appointment,” said Deborah Jones, principal of Turner Elementary in Albany and site of a healthcare center for the past year.
The CDC review of 44 research studies found evidence that hospitalizations for asthma attacks dropped and contraceptive use by girls rose, according to Dr. Robert Hahn, the staff director of the task force. It also found two studies showing that every dollar spent on the centers saved $1.38 in treatment costs in one and a $3.05 savings in the other.
“Educational outcomes are themselves associated with health benefits,” he said.
The Fulton County Schools found its clinic opened last year cut absences almost in half. Those who were sent home for being sick returned quicker where families had no insurance, said Lynne Meadows, coordinator for student health at the school district.
“Many times a kid would go home with an illness and they would never see a provider, and the parents would just keep them home until they were well,” she said.
The centers not only treat students, but also the rest of their family, as well as teachers and people living in the community.
The state has 34 privately run community healthcare centers. They operate in 107 counties at 197 sites.
A temporary committee of the House of Representatives wrapped up a series of hearing Tuesday looking at the school-based centers. It could have recommended legislative action or state funding.
Instead, its chairman, Rep. Bruce Broadrick, R-Dalton, said it will compile a report for lawmakers to share with leaders in their communities.
“What we’ve learned is that these have to boil up from within the community,” he said. “It has to be a community effort, and there are resources out there.”
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