A seismic event that will pay dividends for children, their families and the future of Fresno took place last week.
What was it?
The Fresno Unified School District Board of Trustees’ decision Feb. 8 to open six new school-based health centers over the next two school years.
We believe that the partnership forged by Fresno Unified, Clinica Sierra Vista and Valley Children’s Healthcare should inspire other community leaders and organizations to find new ways to team up for the good of everyone.
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This school health center effort is not a leap of faith. The decision to move ahead is based on proven results – there are 2,000 school-based health centers nationwide and 243 in California – and Fresno Unified’s experience with the Gaston Health and Wellness Center.
That clinic was built into Gaston Middle School, which opened in 2014. It is projecting 5,500 visits for this school year, which demonstrates that there is a need. In addition, the center has had a positive impact on students. Grades and attendance are improving. The center is financially sustainable, which isn’t a surprise because that has been the case in other communities.
Why should schools have health centers?
The answer begins with facts as basic as these: Healthy children do better in school. They attend classes more often and are more attentive.
In Fresno, there is limited health access for poor residents, and one of the biggest barriers is transportation. By providing health care services at neighborhood schools, Fresno Unified and its partners are dramatically closing the distance for students and their families.
Here a few facts that illustrate the importance of this partnership:
▪ About 39 percent of children in Fresno County live in poverty. Many of them suffer the significant health problems that often come with being poor.
▪ 25% of Fresno County children (ages 0-17) have asthma. They are twice as likely to require an acute care admission for asthma than children elsewhere in California.
▪ Fresno County children are twice as likely to use an emergency room compared to children in the rest of the state.
▪ Last year, 37,599 children within a three-mile radius of the six proposed centers were treated by Valley Children’s.
There is something else beneficial about this arrangement. A health center reinforces the idea to young families that schools and education are important to their success. In fact, they should put their neighborhood school at the center of their lives.
The roll-out adopted by the trustees calls for health centers to open at Addams Elementary, Bakman Elementary and Tehipite Middle School in the 2017-18 school year. Centers at Duncan Polytechnical High School, Sunnyside High School and Sequoia Middle School will open in 2018-19.
After that, the district and officials from Valley Children’s and Clinica Sierra Vista will evaluate expansion opportunities. Fresno Unified Board President Brooke Ashjian told the editorial board in a Feb. 9 interview that district discussions with health care providers indicate that eventually up to one-third of Fresno Unified campuses could have health centers.
We need to emphasize that these centers are the real deal – not what you find at the school nurse’s office. They will be open to students and their families.
Valley Children’s will provide, through an agreement with Clinica Sierra Vista, the licensed clinical providers: pediatricians, pediatric nurse practitioners and family nurse practitioners.
Clinica Sierra Vista will provide clinicians to support adult patients, medical assistants, mental-health providers, receptionists and insurance enrollers.
Fresno Unified will provide a full-time school registered nurse, a licensed vocational nurse and a health aide at each center.
The Valley Children’s Hospital’s Clinical Partnership Program will provide its clinical expertise, pathways and protocols to ensure that all care is top notch and cutting edge.
Finally, Valley Children’s will provide a majority of the capital to build and equip the centers.
“This is the first time that Valley Children’s has been asked to participate in this form of partnership and we are very excited to make this investment in the community,” said Michael Goldring, senior vice president and physician network executive for the hospital, in an email to The Bee.
We are glad that Fresno Unified asked, and that Valley Children’s and Clinica Sierra Vista answered positively.
We have no doubt that all of these major players will help lift up many thousands of Fresno families.