Many things get in the way of students learning and engaging in school—a toothache, anxiety, stress at home, untreated migraines. Thankfully there’s a resource that addresses these and many other concerns — school-based health centers. As a nurse practitioner at Neighborcare Health’s school-based health center at Chief Sealth International High School, I see every day how having healthcare where school-aged children spend the majority of their time — at school— provides better health and education outcomes for all. Kids all over Washington state deserve access to this resource at elementary, middle, and high schools, but the vast majority don’t have it. That is why the state legislature must strengthen and expand this model statewide, particularly in light of our youth mental health crisis.
School-based health centers help kids reach their full potential
Longstanding research shows that getting a high school diploma can lead to prolonged life and better health outcomes. In particular, school-based health centers have been shown to be an effective resource in managing short- and long-term problems and lessening the impacts of situations such as housing and food insecurity, leading to good outcomes for the student and their family. As a nurse practitioner in a school setting, I work alongside mental health therapists, dental providers, health educators, and clinic managers who are all easily accessible to students. We work closely with the school staff who care deeply about students’ well-being. Working with other adults who see students daily means there are more people in the students’ corner, advocating for their health and future.
Our school-based health center provides comprehensive care for each student in partnership with their primary care provider. Many teens simply don’t get regular health check-ups. By providing preventative care, we keep kids out of the emergency room, a significant benefit for an overburdened healthcare system. For families with inconsistent insurance and limited resources, including time, the center provides a much-needed service. We don’t turn any student away, regardless of their circumstances.
Addressing the youth mental health crisis
A huge part of our health center’s work focuses on addressing the youth mental health crisis. In addition to the mental health issues brought on by the pandemic, Chief Sealth and many of Neighborcare Health’s school-based sites are located in historically redlined areas, with a significant number of immigrants and people experiencing homelessness. Many students are processing historical trauma that shows up in their day-to-day lives and the lives of their families. Having caring professionals to talk to in a safe, welcoming, accessible environment allows students to get the treatment they need so that they can learn and focus on schoolwork.
By having services on-site, we streamline processes that could take weeks outside school. We coordinate with athletic staff for sports physicals and, after a student has had a concussion, to expedite return-to-play protocol, avoiding long delays resulting in time away from their sport. We approve academic accommodations right at school. When doing a physical, if cavities are seen, we can consult with our onsite dental providers. These are just a few examples of how school-based health centers enhance students’ lives, keeping them in the classroom and getting them back to doing what they love.
A call to lawmakers to expand access to school health centers
Staff at school-based clinics recognize that the most important people in students’ lives are the adults who care for them day-to-day. We work to ensure that parents and guardians are communicated with and that lines of communication that may be hard to manage, especially during the teen years, are open.
In the current session of the Washington State Legislature, parents and guardians can advocate for an increase in grant funding to sustain and expand school-based health centers. Additionally, proposed capital investments in school-based health centers will add space and equipment to serve more students at eight schools across the state, including four in King County. An easy way to stay in the loop is to sign up for action alerts at from Save Health Care in Wasington.
Quality health care is every child’s right
Students at Neighborcare Health’s 15 school-based health centers, along with several other schools in King County, experience this valuable resource. At school-based health centers across Washington, providing quality healthcare is the core of our work. It is my firm belief that every student should be able to have this level of holistic care available to them, not just at the schools where they currently exist. I urge the legislature to prioritize all of Washington’s students’ futures by investing in school-based health centers.
Lisa Krogman, ARNP, is a nurse practitioner at Neighborcare Health’s school-based health center at Chief Sealth International High School in Seattle.
Lisa Krogman, ARNP