Here's something that you probably didn't know - April is School-Based Health Center Awareness Month in West Virginia. To commemorate our 30 days of celebration, school-based health centers around the state are spreading the word about the good things that they do to keep students healthy and ready to learn.
SBHCs are like having a doctor's office on school grounds. They provide essential preventive services such as well child exams, immunizations, health education and help manage chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma. They are a low-cost, incredibly effective model for delivering health care to students, and they provide these services regardless of the family's ability to pay.
SBHCs are a common-sense solution to a complex problem. Students who are sick can quickly receive treatment, and this helps reduce absenteeism. Parents or guardians who may lack transportation, or can't get away from work, don't need to worry about picking their sick child up from school to take them to see the doctor. Behavioral problems can be more easily assessed and treated, and this gives administrators peace of mind.
With a SBHC in a school, attendance goes up, behavioral problems go down, there are fewer dropouts and students are more likely to succeed academically.
SBHCs are built upon mutual respect and collaboration between the school and a health provider to promote the health and academic success of its students. In West Virginia, no SBHCs are paid for by the school system. No increased fees or tax levies pay for the addition of a center in a school. A health center or hospital - usually an agency that is already a part of the community - provides the care.
Most importantly, SBHCs have the potential to greatly improve academic success. Poor academic outcomes and high dropout rates are major concerns for educators, policy makers and parents alike; and poor health severely limits a child's motivation and ability to learn. Many SBHCs provide behavioral health services, so problems can be assessed early. Parents are encouraged to play an active role in their children's health care, and so a relationship of inclusion and trust can help families address complex health issues.
Today, nearly 2,000 SBHCs across the country provide access to high-quality, comprehensive medical care, preventive care, social services and youth development to nearly 2 million students in 47 states and territories.
In our state, there are currently 68 SBHCs serving 80 schools in 28 counties. As a board member of the West Virginia School-Based Health Assembly, I am proud of the work that we've done to expand school-based health services - including behavioral and oral health services - into schools and communities around the state. This is the time of year when we celebrate our successes, share our stories and acknowledge our partners who are committed to ensure that all students have the opportunity to grow up healthy and well-educated.
If this is the first time you've ever heard of school-based health centers, you are not alone. SBHCs remain one of West Virginia's best-kept secrets, but we're working to see that change. Parents, teachers, administrators or anyone who would like to learn more about how they can help bring a SBHC to their schools are welcome to contact the West Virginia School Based Health Assembly. Together, we can ensure that all of West Virginia's students are healthy and ready to learn.
Eric A. Ruf
President, West Virginia School Based Health Assembly