The Hays school district’s health clinic has moved out of a cramped portable and into a permanent building with the capacity to provide low-cost services to nearly twice as many students.
The investment in the clinic could also prove to be an investment in student performance.
The clinic is aimed at providing care for students in the district from low-income families, perhaps catching their illnesses early, before they spread, and getting the students back in class more quickly, so they miss less instruction. Rather than a school nurse sending sick students home, they can be referred to the district’s clinic.
“Our goal is to keep the kids healthy and in school,” said Ruth Roberts, the district’s director of student health services. “We’re just trying to get them seen and get them what they need so they can get better.”
The federal government for years has pushed the idea of providing medical care at schools or in nearby facilities, and school districts across Central Texas are exploring ways to do that. Though Hays is one of just a few districts in the area to operate such a clinic, some, such as Del Valle and Pflugerville, are exploring similar options. Others, including the Austin school district, provide more care on some campuses than just a school nurse.
About 48 percent of student absences in the area are due to an acute illness, such as a stomach virus or a cold, according to a recent study, focusing in part on the Hays district, by the E3 Alliance, a group of education and business leaders aiming to improve education in Central Texas.
“I really believe a school-based clinic is going to play an important role in helping reduce that 48 percent and increase attendance,” said Earl Maxwell, chief executive officer of the St. David’s Foundation, which contributed $382,317 for the clinic. The district also received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration for the building.
The E3 Alliance has studied absences in the region for years because chronic absences can be costly to school districts — which are funded based on attendance — and can be an indicator of poor student performance. The latest study, released last week, looked at the reasons students were absent in the Hays and Pflugerville districts. Students in both districts tended to come down with the same sicknesses at the same time, the study showed.
The correlation suggests that if more is done before the illnesses begin to spread, it could help the entire region.
“The community outreach that could be afforded by a wellness center could do a lot to stave off those peaks,” said Hannah Gourgey, director of intellectual property at the district.
The Lone Star Circle of Care, a federally qualified health center with more than 25 community clinics in Central Texas, has worked with area districts to provide additional care in schools. The group provided a school-based psychologist at Crockett High School in the Austin district and documented an improvement in student behavior. Now the group hopes to put school-based psychologists on other campuses.
The expanded 3,700-square-foot clinic in the Hays district, on the Simon Middle School campus, has nine exam rooms, a room for hearing tests, waiting areas, a vitals area, a nurses’ station, offices for providers, and work and storage space.
The clinic costs about $205,000 a year to operate, but generates more than $20,000 in out-of-pocket patient payments and co-pays and receives more than $90,000 in Medicaid reimbursements.
The clinic provides immunizations, well-child checkups, sports physicals, diagnosis and treatment of minor illnesses and injuries, case management of chronic illnesses, prescription medications, referrals to pediatric specialists for serious diseases, and health education on development, nutrition, disease and injury prevention. Services are offered on a sliding fee scale based on a family’s income. Rates can run as low as $15 a visit.
“This clinic directly helps our students who are most in need, but we all benefit,” Superintendent Mike McKie said in a statement. “Student learning and achievement improves and our community is healthier.”