Clinic now open to every Dist. 116 student
After a two-year trial period, Lake County's only school-based health clinic has more than tripled the number of students eligible to receive services.
Vaccinations, primary medical care, mental health assistance, substance abuse counseling and family planning are among the services at the student health and wellness center adjacent to Round Lake High School. Operated by the Lake County Health Department, the clinic opened for the 2,215 high school students in the 2014-15 academic year.
Round Lake Area Unit District 116 Superintendent Constance Collins said the center ran smoothly enough in the first two years that last month it was deemed ready for any of the school system's 7,300 students. She said the idea was always to start with the high school students and expand to include those in the district's elementary and middle schools,
"We definitely look at the whole child, and we know that it's important that our kids are eating, that our kids understand what wellness looks like," Collins said. "And as many services as we can provide, we definitely are (eager) to provide them."
Collins said the center is a way for students -- particularly the 52 percent listed as low income -- to easily receive the medical attention they need without missing an entire school day. Students in other buildings must find transportation to the clinic, but they can get an immediate appointment for medical services not necessarily available to them through other providers.
The clinic can comfortably accept more students, based on the number of visits in the first two years, officials said. As of October, 411 students visited the clinic since its 2014 opening, according to district documents. Most visits have been for mental health reasons.
Eric Apgar, District 116's executive director of student services, said it's unlikely the teenagers would have received an immediate mental health appointment elsewhere or the necessary depth of services or if not for the clinic.
"Individuals who have difficulty with social and emotional needs often neglect their physical health needs," Apgar said. "And now they can come here to the school-based health center to have both of those needs met."
Loretta Dorn, the health department's director of clinical operations, said a psychiatrist is available once a week for students who require more than counseling.
Pupils need a consent form signed by a parent or guardian to enroll at the health center. The Illinois Department of Human Services requires the school-based centers to offer minor injury diagnosis, physicals, reproductive health services, abstinence counseling, cancer screening and other services.
Before the clinic opened, some District 116 residents and others expressed concern that it would be mostly about offering students contraception to prevent disease and pregnancy. District records show seven visits have been made for family planning reasons since 2014.
"I think when the concept of the school-based health center started, there were some who were thinking that the entire focus would be family planning and that there would be a huge number of students taking advantage of that," Collins said. "I think that when you take a look at this, we see that there has been a greater use in the other areas of general medicine, as well as the mental health, than there has been in the family planning area."
Public money from the health department, not District 116, funds all operations in the 1,180-square-foot health center on the high school's east side. The health department received a $500,000 federal grant to help pay to build the clinic.
Medicaid covered 54 percent of students from October 2015 to October 2016, with 32 percent uninsured, according to District 116.
Services cannot be denied due to an inability to pay, but a fee as low as $1 can be charged to the uninsured.
At least 64 school-based health centers were operating statewide in 2015, according to the most recently available data tracked by the nonprofit organization EverThrive Illinois. Suburban clinics include facilities at Maine Township High School East in Park Ridge, Evanston Township High School in Evanston and Niles Township High School West in Skokie.