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posted: 9/25/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: Health clinic proposal needs open discussion

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

It's not unusual for new ideas to be pumped up and criticized even before important details fall into place. It happens all the time.

And such is the case with a proposal to establish a health clinic at Round Lake High School that would offer services such as vaccinations and physicals based on students' ability to pay.

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In the last several weeks alone, proponents have pitched the potential benefits to the boards of the five villages within Round Lake Unit District 116. And, Lake County Right to Life spoke out against the concept because officials questioned the potential of students obtaining birth-control pills or abortion referrals on school property without their parents' knowledge.

All of this comes before the scheduling of any of the public forums that will be used by District 116 residents to determine whether such a clinic should be created and what services it would offer.

We certainly support and encourage a vigorous discussion and debate on the issue. But, we urge all parties to keep an open mind about a proposal still in its formative stages that could be a benefit to the community.

If the gridlock in Congress and the General Assembly has taught us anything it's the need to work together to explore and develop potentially worthwhile ideas. No doubt, plenty of complex and controversial issues must be discussed once the forums begin. Funding, cost, duplicative services and other topics must be addressed without turning this into a referendum on any single issue.

The proposal, which surfaced in 2010, calls for creation of a health center, initially targeting high school students, as the first of its kind in Lake County.

Organizers say it would benefit a district where most students are from low-income families. Two thirds of the 7,000 students qualify for free or reduced price lunches.

A four-month feasibility study by a community advisory committee last year agreed a clinic is needed.

Students would need a consent form signed by parents or a guardian to enroll at the health center. The state requires such centers to offer minor injury diagnosis, physicals, reproductive health services, abstinence counseling, cancer screening, dental care and other services. Contraception availability is recommended for school-based health centers but not required.

At issue is whether such a clinic would be a more effective and efficient health care alternative than options now available to children from low-income families.

Officials say there are at least 2,000 school-based health centers nationally and about 60 in Illinois, including one in Park Ridge-based Maine Township High School District 207.

The idea has potential community benefits, but the devil is always in the details. An open, honest and civil discussion will help sort those out.

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