After five years in operation, facility still exceeding expectations for all involved
Sandy's school-based health clinic, which was built into the new Sandy High School (SHS) back in 2012, is going on its fifth year of operation, and those involved say it's only gotten more successful as time's gone on.
Back when the new SHS was still in the works, Jamie Zentner, program planner for the Clackamas County Public Health Division, approached the Oregon Trail School District (OTSD) hoping to have a school-based clinic implemented in the old high school building. When OTSD caught on to the idea the decision was made to build it into the new facility.
Kim Tinker, nurse practitioner for the clinic, was hopeful from the beginning about what a school-based health center would mean for the children of the OTSD, and so far those hopes have been far from dashed.
"My expectation in the beginning was that every kid in the Oregon Trail school District would have access to health care without barriers," Tinker says. "I think that expectation has been more than met."
Marketing is one thing Julia Monteith, communications director for the OTSD, says helped the center get off to a successful start.
"As far as school-based health clinics go, (the clinic has been) very successful from the get-go," Monteith says. "A lot of school-based health centers have a problem getting the word out. We just haven't had that problem."
Monteith says there were several factors that played into the clinic's initial success. She gives partial credit to the fact that the clinic was "immediately a part of the school" when it opened. She also cites how "well-known and well-liked" the staff was in the community before coming on board at the school.
Tinker has practiced primary care in the Sandy community for 12 years, and her rapport with the local families has aided the clinic.
"You can do all the marketing you want," Monteith says. "But, when you have someone there that they trust ... (Tinker) was very familiar with our community and our community was very familiar with her. She did have a significant number of patients who were familiar with her and like her."
While school is in session, the students of the entire OTSD are welcome to walk-in appointments and services.
"No kid has to come up with a copay," Tinker says. "If a kid doesn't have insurance, we don't turn them away ... We bill insurance and get reimbursed where we can and that so far has made us sustainable."
Tinker makes a point of mentioning how "self-sustainable" the clinic is. None of the school budgeted money goes to the clinic. They are school-based, but not school-funded.
"There are 67 school-based health clinics across the state of Oregon and each one is a little different," Tinker explains. "The state has some requirements, but you pretty much get to mold your clinic to be what you want it to be."
For Tinker that is a "safe environment" with "high standards of confidentiality."
The space the clinic operates out of includes two exam rooms, a waiting/reception area, a small lab, and a private office space for their mental health professional.
Most recently, the clinic has welcomed a new bilingual mental health professional, Batinah Dowdy White.
She has been working with children and families for six years now and just started providing her services at the clinic on Monday, Jan. 9.
Between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., the clinic is closed to the outside community, but as soon as the school day ends, a new staff comes in and the clinic become available to non-students until 8 p.m.
Zentner cites this as being an advantage for those who work during the day. They can avail themselves of the evening hours after their nine-to-five workday to seek medical care.
"From my perspective — what I've seen and observed — it has definitely been a well-valued service in the community," Zentner says. "It's pretty exciting how well it's been received."
She also notes that "every health center is different," with which Tinker agrees, but Zentner says, "Sandy is one of the most productive."
"There was definitely a hole in the community," Tinker says. "People out here were really left with a hole in their health care. Sandy Health and Wellness has really filled a health care void … Our patient census (for the school clinic) — the number of patients per day — has gone up annually. I think that's a good sign."