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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

In-School Clinics Provide Better Healthcare for Students and the Community

Hope Kirwan
Dr. Nathan Suter treats a student at Valley Middle School.

Representative Jay Barnes of Jefferson City is sponsoring a bill this legislative session that would help develop health clinics at underserved Missouri schools.

House Bill 320 is still in committee, but this is the second year that Valley Middle School in House Springs, Mo. has served students in their in-school health clinic

Dr. Nathan Suter is the dentist at Valley's clinic. The school partnered last year with a local nonprofit organization called Comtrea to transform an unused section of the middle school into a center that provides dental and behavioral health services as well as substance abuse counseling.

Blue lockers still line the hallways, but a former science lab now houses three dental chairs and an x-ray machine.

“I didn't plan on it when I went in to dentistry to work in a school but they have space here and I really thought it was a great idea," Suter said.

House Springs is located about 45 minutes south of St. Louis. Dr. Paul Ziegler, the school district’s superintendent, said health services are limited in the area, especially for those who are uninsured or on Medicaid.

“Even if parents have the ability to access it through some other insurance or some other program, often times that reliable transportation to make a 20 mile trip into St. Louis county or something else can be a challenge," Ziegler said.

Lack of transportation in rural areas remains a major reason why school-based health clinics have become more popular across the country. In 2011, the School-Based Health Alliance reported almost 2,000 clinics in the United States. If Missouri lawmakers chose to create the proposed incentive program, the state will join about 20 others who have state supported school clinic systems.

School-Based Health Alliance President John Schlitt said the model is popular because it just makes sense.

“The students benefit because they don't have to travel to find a physician, mom and dad benefit because they don't have to take a day off of work to pick up the child, take them to the healthcare provider, take them back to the school," Schlitt said. "The schools benefit because that's a day of seat time lost by that student. Employers win because mom and dad didn't have to take the day off from work. So it is an extraordinary win-win policy for rural communities.”

And for the community in House Springs, the clinic at Valley Middle School has served their community in even more ways. When the center opened last year, Dr. Suter treated almost 300 students in the district. But he also treated over 300 of their parents and over 800 community members.

“Once the school bus rolls out of the parking lot at 2:30 p.m. or whenever the school is closed for the summer or holidays, we're open to the general public," Suter said. "The school really wanted to be a resource for all of the community, not just for the students.”

Superintendent Ziegler said Valley’s school health clinic is just one example of how schools can assist in providing better access to health services for rural communities in Missouri.

“There were years where we were pretty much just we were there for reading writing and arithmetic as they would say. But really we've created a situation in most school districts across the state where we do much more," Ziegler said. "We have opportunities to do grants to provide additional health services or different services that we don't otherwise, that's going to be something that will again benefit our community and it does paint a little different picture of what the school districts about.”

Hope Kirwan left KBIA in September 2015.
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