Starting this week, parents who are called to come pick up a sick kid at Merriam Park Elementary School won’t have to take them far to see a doctor. Just down the hall, in some cases.
Health Partnership Clinic, the safety net primary care provider for Johnson County, opened a clinic inside the school Tuesday. It’s the first school-based health clinic in the Shawnee Mission School District, and if fourth-grader Josie Shore’s reaction to seeing a doctor in school is any indication, it will take some getting used to.
“It’s kind of weird,” Shore said.
It may be unusual in the Kansas City area, but school-based health clinics have been common for years in other parts of the country, where advocates say they improve student health and decrease absences.
“There are some community health centers elsewhere in the country that have like 20 school-based clinics,” said Anne VanGarsse, a pediatrician who leads the medical team at Merriam Park. “It’s huge. California’s got a lot and I think there are some places in the South that have quite a few.”
Anna Burns, a spokeswoman for the School-Based Health Alliance, said a boom of school-based clinics has been fueled by state funding on the East Coast and county funding on the West Coast.
That’s not the case in the Kansas City area, where they rely largely on philanthropic dollars and a medical partner that can write off some costs. Burns said the alliance has counted 21 school-based clinics in Missouri and 12 in Kansas.
Merriam Park’s clinic, which will be open to all students in the Shawnee Mission School District, relies on a grant from the Kauffman Foundation.
“It was one of those big dreams and then it started to become reality,” Principal Cho Druen, said. “There’s definitely a need for students. They can’t learn if they’re not healthy.”
Tony Kline, the superintendent of University Academy in Kansas City, said having a clinic inside his charter school has played a role in keeping attendance above 95 percent during the five years he’s worked there.
The academy’s Wellness Center is staffed by Children’s Mercy Hospital and financially supported by fundraising and a grant from the Baptist Trinity Lutheran Legacy Foundation. It sees about 730 patients a year at no cost.
“It’s been a huge help,” Kline said. “Most schools want to do it (but) it’s hard to fund them all.”
University Academy also has a dental clinic staffed by students from the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s School of Dentistry.
Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kan., opened a clinic staffed by University of Kansas Medical Center students in 2012 and the Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center operates a clinic inside J.A. Rogers Elementary School in the Kansas City Public Schools district. Spokesman Randy Withers said it plans to open another in Blue Springs.
The Merriam Park clinic will expand the model into Shawnee Mission, a district of 27,000 students.
The clinic will offer walk-in health services, including preventative care like routine check-ups and immunizations, as well as services for sick kids.
There will also be a psychologist on site Wednesday mornings for behavioral health services by appointment. VanGarsse said the student-patients will have to be accompanied by their parents, and though the services are open to all, the goal is to be a comprehensive primary care provider for kids who have no regular pediatrician.
“I bet we’re going to see a lot of sick kids,” VanGarsse said. “A lot of cough, cold, runny nose. It’s flu season so I bet we’re going to see a lot of kids with earaches, sore throats, that type of stuff.”