By Emily Younker
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Joplin school officials are floating the idea of installing a comprehensive health center for students in one of the district’s buildings, such as the new Joplin High School.
The proposal is for a school-based clinic or a mobile clinic that could provide primary and preventive medical, social and mental health care; chronic care; health education services; and referral services for students. The idea came from the district’s Health Advisory Committee, which consists of school staff and community members in the health services field and is led by Mark Barlass, assistant director of special services.
“This is very, very preliminary,” Superintendent C.J. Huff told members of the Board of Education recently.
Under the proposal, the health center would provide on-site services to students when school is in session and 24-hour coverage through an on-call system. The district would provide the space, either at a school or in a mobile unit, while a sponsoring agency — such as Sisters of Mercy Health System, Freeman Health System or another health care provider — would be responsible for the center’s administration and operations.
Services would be provided at no cost to students who enroll with parental consent. Health care providers could bill third-party vendors for services, but that cash flow would be separate from the school district’s revenue base, according to the proposal. Barlass said the project also would be at no cost or minimal cost to the district and would rely on grants or other forms of funding.
Barlass said the health center would provide broader services than a school nurse could perform. He said it could employ a full-time nurse practitioner or physician assistant, mental health professionals or physicians. Services could include comprehensive medical or mental health assessments, diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions, crisis intervention, counseling, or referrals to outside programs.
The clinic would serve only students, Barlass said. He said the committee doesn’t have enough information yet on the impact of also serving faculty and staff members.
Barlass said a school-based clinic would help “maintain a healthy student body,” which in turn could boost attendance and class participation. He said the number of hours missed by students for doctors’ appointments is the second highest category of absences recorded by the district.
The school board last month was receptive of the idea, directing Barlass and the committee to explore it further. Board members also asked for more research into aspects such as potential liability on the part of the district and whether the health center would be cost-effective.
With the go-ahead from the board, the committee now plans an assessment of needs at Joplin schools, and it will work later with the health care agencies in Joplin to write a formal proposal, Barlass said.
“From there, it would be putting together what the district would want in a request for proposal, and presenting that and meeting with agencies in the community to have them review what we’re looking at and whether it’s viable,” he said.
Nearly 2,000 school-based health centers are in operation nationwide, according to the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care. Last fall, the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas began a mobile medical clinic to provide services to Pittsburg schools. The Joplin School District’s Health Advisory Committee recently toured the Mercy-operated, full-time health clinic at Roosevelt High School in St. Louis.