Health clinic plan moves ahead

July 20, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Contraceptives will not be offered in wellness centers the Washington County Health Department wants to set up in county schools.

Health Officer Dr. Robert Parker in February proposed creating school-based health centers that would offer services to combat substance abuse, pregnancy and mental health problems among students.

His initial suggestion to make contraceptives available to students was too controversial, so Parker dropped that part of his proposal.

During a work session Tuesday, the Washington County Board of Education gave him approval to pursue the plan further.

Parker said later he didn't want the issue of contraceptives to become a "roadblock" to the entire project. "There isn't yet acceptance on the part of the community as a whole," he said.

"I think our community would be very sensitive to that," said School Board member B. Marie Byers. "We need to be up front and say, reproductive supplies will not be distributed."


A 1997 Health Department survey of students showed they need better access to health care, according to Parker. Putting clinics on school grounds would bring health services closer to students, he said.

School health centers would provide services similar to those available at a family doctor's or pediatrician's office, Parker said. Counseling, addictions and mental health services would be included.

"Reproductive health services would only be available on referral," Parker told the School Board. "Those services would not be provided on site."

Only those students whose parents give consent would be allowed to use the health centers. Schools have a health system in place that would serve those who did not have parental permission. Each school is now served by a health assistant.

Parker wants to pilot a wellness center on one school campus. He said the center would be staffed by a full-time nurse practitioner and could resemble the Washington County Hospital's mobile unit or be inside the school building if space were available.

Parker estimates the startup cost could be as much as $200,000. Medicaid and insurance reimbursements will pay for part of it, but the project will require a continual subsidy, he said.

"We're going to have to have a strong commitment for ongoing expense," Parker said Tuesday. The project might rely on grants and donations, he said.

"We really don't have any extra money for this kind of project," said Byers.

Demand for the center remains to be seen, and without sufficient demand, it would not succeed, Parker said. He said he was unsure whether parents would approve.

"They have to buy into the idea to make it really work," he said. "We have not talked to the parents about it. These are issues we still have to find out."

The School Board gave its approval for Parker to hold meetings with parents, councils and school administrators. The Health Department will survey families and review similar programs in other Maryland counties.

It will also develop detailed plans and cost estimates before reporting to the School Board again.

"I think we all recognize the need for health services in our schools and encourage this," said Paul Bailey, acting School Board president.

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