While Fresno Unified students generally are unhealthier than their peers across the state, the district is falling behind when it comes to school-based health centers, according to a new report.
Fresno Unified, the state’s fourth-largest school district with nearly 75,000 students, needs eight more health centers to meet the state’s average ratio of students-to-clinics, according to research by The Parthenon Group – a consulting firm hired by the district.
Fresno Unified, which currently has only one school-based health clinic at Gaston Middle, would need to add 20 more before it matches the services in San Francisco and Oakland school districts.
The district is proposing 10 more health centers, with Addams Elementary, Sequoia Middle and Kings Canyon Middle labeled as the most in need, according to an analysis of demographics and access to care.
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We’re designed to serve people who are uninsured and underrepresented.
Ruben Chavez, Clinica Sierra Vista,
The report, presented to the school board last week, points to Fresnans’ health problems and a lack of medical professionals.
Twenty-five percent of Fresno Unified fifth-graders have asthma, compared to 19 percent of students that age in California, and more than 40 percent of FUSD students are overweight. Meanwhile, Fresno has 118 physicians per 100,000 residents, while the state average is 174 physicians per 100,000.
“Despite high demand, there is poor access to care in Fresno,” the report says. “Health interventions have a demonstrated positive impact on academic achievement. As a result, districts across the country are adopting programs to increase access to care for their students.”
Gaston’s Health and Wellness Center has served nearly 3,000 unique patients since it opened in 2015. The clinic does not charge a co-pay for services to students at the school, and is open to any member of the public under the age of 19.
25%of Fresno Unified fifth-graders have asthma
The center is a federally qualified health clinic operated by Clinica Sierra Vista, one of the largest health systems for low-income patients in the state. Federally qualified health centers offer a sliding fee scale and are required to see patients that need service, regardless of insurance status.
Gaston’s Health and Wellness Center is projected to eventually open to all ages, and it’s likely that any new centers would be accessible to the public as well.
Gaston Principal Felicia Quarles Treadwell said the clinics directly benefit the students and families at the schools where they’re located, pointing out that of the more than 700 students at Gaston who made appointments at the clinic last year, all returned to class.
“You probably know that when students have to go to the doctor, they may not even go to school the day they make the appointment,” she said. “There’s a true relationship between the school and the clinic: it’s fast, it’s positive. Students and parents are confident … it’s reassuring that the clinic is there.”
The school board has not yet voted to approve the proposal, though, with some trustees voicing concern about their financial stability – especially while federal laws like the Affordable Care Act are uncertain under a new presidency. Fresno Unified officials said no money from the schools budget would go toward the clinics.
But Ruben Chavez, chief administrative officer for Clinica Sierra Vista, says there is no need for concern.
“Federally qualified health centers have been around for 50-plus years. Way before the ACA, we were around,” he said. “We’re designed to serve people who are uninsured and underrepresented. That’s our mission. We’re committed to the community.”