St. Helens High School

St. Helens High School, which has received a grant to assess student health services.

St. Helens School District (SHSD) has received a grant to conduct a needs assessment on student health services, in the hopes of establishing a School-Based Health Center (SBHC) at St. Helens High School (SHHS).

The $35,000 grant, awarded from the Adolescent and School Health Unit within the Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division, will enter Phase 1 in January of this year, with funds to be used by the end of June in 2020.

The district applied for the grant in September and received notification that they had been awarded the grant earlier in October, according to SHSD documents. Expectations for the needs assessment include evaluating site readiness and community need for school health services, the grant award letter states. It further outlines needs assessment expectations as gathering input in the form of interviews and focus group discussions from involved parties, such as community members, school employees, students, parents and other stakeholders.

SBHCs are a program established in 1986 under the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), that seek to improve access to affordable quality primary care and mental health services for school-aged youth, according to the OHA’s website. Because SBHCs operate on school grounds, kids can more easily access health care and get back to class faster, the OHA website explains.

Sacagawea Health Center, at Lewis & Clark Elementary School, is an SBHC that currently exists in the district. The health center serves children and adults for mental health needs and primary care. However, school officials state in their grant proposal that an additional SBHC is needed on the high school campus.

One reason, officials noted, is accessibility. The Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, completed at the high school earlier this year, reported that 10.3 percent of 11th grade students had ever accessed Sacagawea Health Center.

“We believe the lack of access to services may be due to Sacagawea’s location, lack of transportation, or the availability of a provider,” the grant proposal states.

Another reason is that district officials believe current school resources are at capacity. School officials reported that both a newly hired school social worker and mental health resources provided by Columbia Community Mental Health (CCMH) have reached their limit early in the school year. These contracts were developed in order to combat a high suicide rate and suicide ideations during the 2017-18 school year, the grant proposal states. More recently, in spring of 2019, the Oregon Healthy Teens Survey found that 47.6 percent of 11th grade students showed depressive symptoms that impacted daily activities. This is in comparison to state-wide data which showed an average of 32.2 percent.

District officials also noted unmet health care needs for dental services, owing to the fact that students on the Oregon Health Plan, which insures low-income Oregonians, have access to only two providers in Columbia County who will see school-aged students through the district’s CCO. The providers are also located at least 25 miles away from St. Helens, the application states.

The district provides the high school with a part-time nurse, which, according to the grant proposal, “significantly limits the services available to students.”

Parties involved in Phase 1 planning work include SHSD administration, a school social worker, a school nurse, Columbia Health Services and the Public Health Administrator, the grant proposal states.

SHSD will also have the opportunity to enter Phase 2 for continued funding. If awarded, Phase 2 would run from July of 2020 to June of 2021. According to the grant award letter, Phase 2 funding is competitive, with a maximum of six SBHCs and four School Nursing Pilot models to be awarded funds.

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