While the Board of Education held off making a decision on whether to implement a school-based health clinic at Newtown Middle School during its meeting on Tuesday, July 15, it also promised to take the topic up again at a future date.
When Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, arrived in the school district in April, he told the school board during its meeting on July 15, the conversation about adding a school-based health clinic at NMS was already ongoing.
A number of people who worked on a committee to research the school-based health clinic were present to discuss the option with the school board, including nursing supervisor Anne Dalton, School Based Health Centers of Danbury coordinator Melanie Bonjour, NMS Principal Thomas Einhorn, school district medical advisor Ana Paula Machado, Thomas Draper representing the Newtown Health District in place of Donna Culbert, and school district health coordinator Judy Blanchard.
Dr Erardi said that when a representative of the Department of Education visited recently, support for a school-based health clinic at NMS was shared.
“I think the exciting news in regard to this issue is that there is a funding stream in place for this to take place,” Dr Erardi said. “If the board supports this initiative they can move from paper to practice somewhere in the area of December 2014 or January 2015.”
The committee, Dr Erardi said, completed field trips when looking into the possibility of adding a clinic at NMS.
Ms Bonjour said the School Based Health Centers of Danbury have two programs in Danbury, and the high school clinic is in its 20th year. She also said she believes school-based health centers make students better learners.
“A healthier student or healthier adult has the capacity to absorb the information that an educator or teacher provides,” Ms Bonjour said. “So by addressing their health care needs, their unmet health care needs, earlier, working with the child to be healthier and happier, they have a better opportunity to excel academically.”
The initiative to look at the possibility of a clinic at NMS, according to Ms Bonjour, was “prompted by a community-provided response to address the future needs of the community.”
As a resident, Ms Bonjour said she has a passion to assist in her community.
The committee, Ms Bonjour said, assembled local providers and professionals to discuss the school-based health care center concept and medical and mental health student needs.
“We’re in our planning phase now,” said Ms Bonjour, “and we hope with the board’s support… to have a program, initially a program, probably in the middle of the [2014-15 school year.]”
If initiated, the school-based health centers would provide a licensed clinical social worker, medical care, mental health care, a medical/billing assistant, and an educational component, according to Ms Bonjour. The staff of the school-based health clinic would not replace existing staff, but would “extend the services of the department,” Ms Bonjour said.
“The services that we provide in the school-based health centers are there to serve any student that is in that school,” said Ms Bonjour.
She also said having a school-based health clinic would hopefully provide students with earlier access to care.
After speaking with the NMS nursing staff, Mr Einhorn said they are excited.
School board member Debbie Leidlein said she saw the clinic’s ability to help working parents who may not have time to bring their child to see a medical or mental health professional, but she also asked whether parents would have the opportunity to opt out of having their child use the clinic. Ms Bonjour parents would have that option, and explained a parental permission form would be sent home.
“I think it is a terrific resource,” Dr Machado said, adding that a clinic in the school would allow for better communication between doctors offices, schools, and parents. “I think it is such a great thing for Newtown.”
Board of Education member David Freedman noted a number of concerns during the meeting, including whether the clinic would be a “duplication of services” in the area, and whether the clinic would be a financial concern if state funding was not provided.
Ms Bonjour noted that the budget for the school-based health clinics has not been cut by the state in 20 years. She also said Newtown has need of a school-based health clinic.
Noting that she visited a Branford school-based health clinic, board member Michelle Ku said the grants provided to Newtown following the events of 12/14 will not last long, and the needs resulting from those events will continue for 15 years.
“I think that bringing the services to the community is a long-term solution,” Ms Bonjour told the school board.
Dr Erardi suggested school board members take further time to research the possibility of a school based health clinic at NMS, possibly by visiting one at another location, and asked the committee members to return for the board’s planned August 19 meeting.