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New London - Agreeing that "much of the future of students' health care lies in schools," U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and local education and health professionals met Wednesday to discuss the importance of early intervention and resources for mental health treatment, and how school-based health clinics can give children and families access to essential services.
At a roundtable discussion held at Jennings Elementary School, school and health officials said the clinics can integrate mental and physical health care and offer ways to deal with barriers. They also addressed the high demand for services at school-based clinics and the region's need for more psychiatrists for adolescents.
The roundtable included representatives from the Board of Education, the Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut and school-based health centers.
"I believe much of the future of students' health care lies in schools," said Dr. Vijay K. Sikand, the medical director of Child & Family, who said the centers can address issues from obesity to asthma and provide preventative care.
School-based health centers typically have nurse practitioners and mental health professionals on staff and can provide services from flu shots to referrals for outside care. Child & Family Agency, headquartered in New London, manages 18 school-based clinics in Groton, Norwich, Waterford and New London, including the one at Jennings, where 70 percent of the students are signed up to use the clinic. All students whose parents or guardians have signed a permission form for the services can use the clinic if they wish, according to the agency's website.
Ashley Saunders, director of clinical services for Child & Family, addressed the ability of school clinics to allow students to develop relationships with a nurse practitioner or physician whom they can easily visit when needed, such as when some students felt anxious about attending school after the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook school shooting.
"That's a great advantage of the school-based health center," Saunders said.
He also stressed early identification, in elementary grades, of potential mental health issues.
Miriam Taylor, director of student services for New London schools, said children with mental health needs can sometimes miss school and end up falling behind in coursework. With a center at school, students can take time to visit the clinic at school and then return to class without losing much instruction time, she said.
Principal Laurelle Texidor said that in addition to preventive care, school-based clinicians can assist students with problems such as bullying and help them learn how to speak to a student who is making them feel bad about themselves.
School staff on the panel said demand for services is so great that there can be a waiting list to visit the clinic, but that students needing immediate help can get an appointment right away.
The centers implemented an electronic records system last year through a grant under the Affordable Care Act that Courtney supported, Sikand said.
Courtney, who represents the Second District and will serve on the House Education and Workforce Committee for the 113th Congress, said he will present the ideas to his committee.
"A school-based health center is where these kids are coming every day, and they integrate the treatment with their education, with their family situation," Courtney said. "These guys just do a great job."