Karen Dandurant | Fosters Daily Democrat | 3/28/23
SOMERSWORTH — A partnership between Somersworth School District and Greater Seacoast Community Health will bring a dedicated health clinic to the city’s high school beginning next school year, the first of its kind in the area.
SAU 56 Superintendent Lori Lane said she brought the proposal to the School Board Tuesday.
“They said yes!” Lane said. “That gives us the green light to make this happen by the fall.”
Lane said she believes the clinic will be the first in New Hampshire, stating all 49 other states already have some form of a health clinic in school systems.
“We began having ongoing conversations with people at Goodwin Health, part of Greater Seacoast Community Health,” Lane said. “We were interested in how we could form a partnership for physical and for behavioral health. What we have been seeing is older kids who get fatigued by mid-morning. They are not used to the structure of high school. We see physical aggression, sexualized behaviors. We see mental health concerns in kids who feel isolated, especially seen during the pandemic, when some were also scared.”
Lane said many conversations with Janet Laatsch, CEO at Goodwin, led to the idea of bringing a health center into the school. She said their hope is that the community embraces the clinic, that they will see it as adding value to the community. Strafford County Public Health Network is also expected to be involved.
“Their board (Greater Seacoast Community Health) enthusiastically supported the idea,” said Lane. “We visited a similar health clinic that has been operating in Portland, Maine, schools and we loved what they were doing. We did a parent survey, and we had listening sessions with students. We got incredible support.”
“In Portland, their clinic staff works with students, but also with kids who have dropped out, and with recent graduates who turn 18,” Lane said. “Every other state in the nation funds this. New Hampshire does not, so we had to find a way to make it happen.”
Portland, Maine, area school health clinics serve as model
Jason Goff, practice administrator for Greater Portland Health, said it has six in-school clinics in Portland, South Portland and Westbrook.
“We have been in the Portland schools for over 20 years,” Goff said. “We offer comprehensive health care that includes primary care, sports physicals, acute care, dental, psychiatric and behavioral health services.”
Goff said he is very proud of the success of the health-based clinics.
“They are successful because of the excellent staff we have, people who are driven by our mission,” Goff said. “It is a like-minded partnership and it works.”
How health clinic will work in Somersworth
Lane said Goodwin will provide staff, medical expertise and medical supplies, and the district will provide the space within the school, adapting it as needed to be used as a clinic. She said COVID-19 relief funds will be used where appropriate.
“We see this as a positive,” said Jim Avrett, chief operating officer for Greater Seacoast Community Health, which includes Goodwin, Families First and Lilac City Pediatrics. “It completely fits with our mission, with what we already do. We know there are people there who need our services and even though we are located about two miles away (Goodwin), we know there are people who can’t get here because of any number of barriers. We are thrilled with the opportunity to do this.”
Seacoast Greater Community Health is a federally qualified health center. According to healthcare.gov. that is defined as a “Federally funded nonprofit health centers or clinics that serve medically underserved areas and populations. Federally qualified health centers provide primary care services regardless of your ability to pay. Services are provided on a sliding scale fee based on your ability to pay.”
Billing for services at the high school clinic would go through health insurance, Medicaid, or if a student has no health insurance coverage, Avrett said, they would use the same type of sliding fee scale as its local practices.
The school clinic will offer services for physical and behavioral wellbeing. Lane said some services, still in discussion, like birth control, will need parental permission.
Avrett said the clinic will provide primary care, three days a week, from noon-4 p.m., with an advanced practice registered nurse and a medical assistant. The clinic will also offer behavioral health services.
“We did a lot of research across the country,” Avrett said. “Because of that, we will offer behavioral health services for three eight-hour days, with a licensed clinical social worker.”
Avrett said Greater Seacoast Community Health was very impressed with the work being done in Portland area schools. He noted Amoskeag Health has also been offering behavioral health services for Manchester schools.
“There are school-based health services in 49 states,” said Avrett. “There’s a lot of knowledge and research to tap into. We are excited to get started and thrilled with the great space Somersworth has dedicated for us in the school.”
Avrett said the goal is to be ready to start at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year.