Quietly, Children’s Hospital of Minneapolis is closing the clinic it managed at Southwest High School, part of a Minneapolis-wide program established in the 1980’s to improve teenagers’ access to health care by putting clinics in high schools.
All but two of the clinics are managed by the city; North High’s clinic is managed by the NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, and Southwest’s was run by Children’s Hospital through their Teenage Medical Service, or TAMS.
“It’s a great loss,” says Barb Andrews, a nurse practitioner at the Washburn, Edison, and Henry high school clinics. This coming school year, Southwest will be the only high school without an in-school clinic.
“The population really looks at us as handing out birth control pills…and I can’t deny that, it’s a part of working with teens, but the clinics are [much more] comprehensive than that,” said Andrews, providing or linking students with services ranging from eyeglasses to dental care to mental health care.
Andrews says these clinics provide a vital safety net for all students, but particularly those without health insurance. She has many stories of students who come to a clinic for minor things like chronic headaches or sports physicals, and a nurse discovers a serious illness or disorder that had gone undetected because the student did not have regular access to health care. The clinics are separate from the regular school nurse, and handle the “more complex cases,” she says.
“These days, there are fewer and fewer clinics for the underserved to go to,” Andrews says. “We also do a lot of in-school outreach to parents and families, trying to hook them up with insurance. Maybe a parent isn’t eligible for insurance [because of a chronic illness], but their kids might be.”
“By being where they are,” says Donna Amidon, Director of In-School Clinics for the city of Minneapolis, “we reduce barriers to access.” Studies have found that teens across class boundaries don’t utilize their primary care physicians very much, Amidon says.
The main aim of the clinics, Andrews says, is to “keep kids in school.” City-run clinics focus on sexual education, and chronic nutrition and mental-health issues – things that, if not attended to, could easily force children to drop out of high school.
Sometimes, the clinics can even save lives. Andrews tells stories of a young high schooler who came to one of her clinics saying he was always tired. It turned out he had leukemia, and had lost nearly all of his white blood cells. The clinic connected him with doctors at Hennepin County Medical Center – and insurance to pay for treatment – helping the young man live to graduate.
“There will be a conversation over the next few weeks,” Amidon says about what to do to replace the Southwest clinic. City and school district officials will be included, along with the current school nurse at Southwest, and the lead nurses of the other in-school clinics. “Funding is a problem for all sponsors,” she said. “Insurance doesn’t work [as a source of funding], because our clinics focus mostly on prevention,” and treat many uninsured patients.
As things stand now, though, Amidon is not sure when, or how the clinic will be replaced.
James Sanna is a freelance writer and an intern covering education issues for the Daily Planet. Email firstname.lastname@example.org