5 Things to Know About School-Based Health Centers

Millions of elementary and secondary students across the US lack consistent access to quality health care services. Lack of insurance, money, location, and knowledge on how to access health care services are all factors that contribute to students not using these services- especially low- income students. It’s an issue that is vitally important to America’s long-term health since the health behaviors students adopt now will impact the quality of their lives down the road.

That’s where School-Based Health Care (SBHCs) centers can play an important role in promoting healthy behavior habits in students. With more than 2,000 SBHCs in the country, these centers provide health care services to students in a setting where they spend most of their day- school. Located on or near a school’s property, they not only provide basic health care, but offer services and resources to help students manage health related issues (i.e. teen pregnancy, asthma, obesity, etc) that are specific to their community, their school, and their personal lives. SBHCs have shown impressive potential which is why the Affordable Care Act provided nearly $200 million in grants for expanding and delivering services at SBHCs.

Read on to see how SBHCs can impact students and the community.

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1. SBHCs provide free access to licensed health care professionals.

One of the greatest benefits of SBHCs is that they provide access to free health care services regardless of whether a student is insured or uninsured. Centers are staffed with licensed health care professionals that provide high-quality care that not only focuses on improving students’ physical health, but also their emotional, social, and behavioral health. They know the effects poverty and living in adverse conditions can have on a student’s overall health, which is why they provide access to:

  • Primary medical care
  • Mental/behavioral health care
  • Dental/oral health care
  • Health education and promotion
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • Case management
  • Nutrition education

Most SBHCs do not offer all of these, but they do tailor their services based on the health needs of their students. The majority do provide primary, mental, and reproductive health care services.

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2. SBHCs positively impact absences, drop out rates, disciplinary problems, and attendance.

Because SBHCs are located on schools’ campuses, they have unique insight to help schools identify health issues that impact attendance and school performance of their students.

In fact, states with health education and services see higher test scores and lower dropout rates among their students. In one study, High School SBHC users had a 50 percent decrease in absenteeism and 25 percent decrease in tardiness after receiving mental health counseling at their SBHC. Here are some additional impacts SBHCs have on student learning and achievement.

“I hear great stories about kids and teens who would miss days and days of school and are now able to be successful. I have had former patients that are in college or have their own families that were in my school health practice and I still hear from them. They say, ‘you made a difference, and I was able to complete school because of you.’” – Patti Scott, Former SBHC Administrator – See more here

3. Students who use SBHCs practice more health promoting behaviors than SBHC non- users.

Though the mere presence of SBHCs in schools does not improve overall student health status and outcomes compared to schools without SBHCs, a study found that students who use SBHCs are more satisfied with their health, report a significant increase in quality of life, and have healthier lifestyles than students who do not use SBHCs. It is especially true for students who have chronic diseases, like asthma. Children with asthma who use SBHCs report fewer hospitalizations, fewer emergency room visits, and better school attendance.

4. SBHCs can improve access to care for low- income students.

Students in low-income communities are less likely to have access to consistent health care, experience worse health, miss more days of school, and have higher rates of teen pregnancy compared to students in more prominent communities.

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To improve health and educational outcomes among low-income students, it makes sense to meet students where they spend most of their day- at school, especially in light of the evidence that shows improved educational and health outcomes in students who use SBHCs. That’s why organizations like the Community Preventive Services Task Force are working to implement SBHCs in low-income communities across the country.

5. SBHCs integrate into the school’s educational environment.

SBHCs address issues that matter to schools- healthy, productive students. By working with teachers and school administrators, SBHCs develop solutions to help reverse the health-related factors that can contribute to poor school performance and absenteeism.

“Our approach to care for children is unique and different, and lends itself to improved outcomes.” – Dr. Veda Johnson, SBHC Physician – See more here

SBHCs have the potential to make positive life long changes in students’ lives, especially among the nearly 5 million uninsured children in the US. As research has shown and SBHC administrators advise, just having an SBHC isn’t enough, you must be intentional and have a strategy on how you are going to reach students. And if services are delivered well, there is no argument that they can make a lasting impact on students not only while they are in school, but also years down the road.

 California School-Based Health Alliance is leading the way in implementing more SBHCs in their state. Take a look at their experience and success stories, here.


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