When a Sunset Elementary School student fell on the playground this week, the boy walked across the parking lot to the school’s new medical clinic.
He was visiting Spokane County’s first school-based health clinic, which opened Tuesday at the Airway Heights school. The project, which has been in the works since fall 2010, will serve as a primary and urgent care clinic for the school’s K-6 students.
The boy had a sprained wrist. A physician assistant outfitted him with a splint, and he soon returned to class.
“I’m really excited to have the chance to have the clinic at Sunset,” said Principal Sean Dotson. “We are far enough away that it’s hard for our kids to get to medical services – in some cases it means a kid missing a half day. Anything we can do to keep the kids in school is a good thing.”
Across the country, there are more than 1,700 school-based health clinics. Spokane County was one of the largest metro areas without one, said former Community in Schools director Ben Stuckart, who initiated the project.
Studies have shown that students who use them do better academically, have more regular attendance and are less likely to drop out.
Sunset was chosen as the pilot school because its free and reduced-price lunch rate is more than 70 percent, the area has a high unemployment rate and because of the town’s distance from health care services for low-income families.
“People were taking the bus to the ER,” Stuckart said. “There was only one stop between Airway Heights and the ER,” rather than the multiple stops needed to go to a free clinic.
The 950-square-foot clinic, located inside a portable classroom, has three exam rooms, a reception area, a bathroom and a doctor work area; it’s manned by a physician assistant and at least one medical assistant, said Kelley McDonald, a Community Health Association of Spokane (CHAS) spokeswoman. CHAS, a nonprofit that serves primarily low-income residents, is operating the clinic.
“As an organization, we are committed to serving individuals in the Inland Northwest, regardless of the ability to pay for services, and there aren’t any clinics in the Airway Heights area that serve those type of clients,” McDonald said.
The Sunset School Health Center offers primary medical care, including evaluation and treatment of common health problems; well-child exams, immunizations, sports physicals, oral health evaluations, fluoride treatments and dental education. The clinic will open Monday through Friday when school is in session. The clinic is open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday.
“The clinic will be for just the kids for starters and then we’ll see if we can expand it to their families,” said Mike Wiser, project manager for the school-based health clinic.
The pilot was funded through grants from several organizations, including the Spokane County Medical Society, Nordstrom and the Inland Northwest Community Foundation. The annual cost is estimated at $50,000, Wiser said.
So far, Sunset’s new clinic has only had three patients. Other than the playground injury, parents made appointments for the physician assistant to see two students suffering from cold-like symptoms.
But the operation is just getting started. As soon as parents catch on, “I really foresee it being used quite well,” said Cari Rodgers, the physician assistant.
Said Dotson, “As with any pilot project, it’s a learning experience. As schools, we have to find creative ways to meet kids’ needs. This helps make sure we have healthy students in class learning every day.”