Monvtille HS offers “easier access” to healthcare

Kathy Nelson, an advanced practice registered nurse, takes a student’s blood pressure in the new health center at Montville High School. The health center is run by United Community Family Services.
Kathy Nelson, an advanced practice registered nurse, takes a student’s blood pressure in the new health center at Montville High School. The health center is run by United Community Family Services.

School just started for the students of Montville High School, but the new school-based health center run by United Community and Family Services is already overwhelmingly busy with student visits.

It’s an indicator that the center is needed, and according to Kathy Nelson, the center’s advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), it’s all about easier access to care.

“The goal is to keep the student in the classroom,” Nelson said. “If a student has medical or mental health or behavioral health needs, it’s easier access in the school.”

The UCFS center provides services more like those available at a walk-in clinic or primary care provider, including physicals, vaccinations and counseling. While school nurses can assess a patient’s medical needs, they can’t treat all injuries or illnesses. Since the new center opened Aug. 26, students just have to walk down the hallway to receive treatment for those conditions.

Nelson said the team has a close relationship with the athletics department because they can conduct physicals before students can play, and can treat sports injuries after they take the field. They plan to launch a program to open the center for physicals a few days before school starts next August to give students more time to be cleared for play.

The school will also be able to provide behavioral health services, whether it’s on a drop-in basis for a student having a bad day or regular appointments. Julia Cooper, the center’s licensed professional counselor, said she already has a full case load with one-on-one visits but hopes to start group counseling in the future.

“We’ve had a lot of interest already from students that were seeing behavioral health counselors at another location,” Cooper said. Now, those students can receive the same services at school, which is easier on parents.

Even though the center is only open three days a week, the team works with the students to schedule visits during study halls or lunch to avoid cutting into class time. While it allows students to start taking ownership of their own health before graduating and moving out, it also prevents their parents from having to leave work to bring their child to the doctor.

UCFS Vice President of Marketing and Facilities Pam Kinder said the center was built after school let out in June. The room, which used to be a copy room for faculty and staff, was renovated in two weeks to include a reception area, counseling office and clinical room. The center also recently received approval from the state immunization program to store and administer vaccines, which Nelson said will be helpful as flu season approaches.

The Montville High center is the second school-based health center run by UCFS after opening its first at Norwich Technical High School last year. The team works at Montville on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and at Norwich Tech on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Both centers have been busy so far this year, but students at Norwich Tech and their parents are often more familiar with school-based health centers because many come from towns that have similar programs.

“In Montville, we had a lot of questions before we even opened,” Kinder said, citing eligibility as a common concern of parents. “Anyone can come to the MHS school-based health center, and that’s what makes it appealing.”

Throughout the process, the administration at Montville High has been very supportive and welcoming. Nelson and Cooper will attend the school’s support system meetings, which are held to allow staff who work directly with students to address issues that might come up during the school year. Kinder said the very idea for a school-based health center for the school was brought up by an administrator at her niece’s graduation party a few years ago.

“So never underestimate a graduation party and what you can get accomplished,” she joked.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

Twitter: ahutch411

Julia Cooper, a licensed professional counselor, right, in her office at Montville High School, listens to Pam Kinder, vice president of marketing and facilities at United Community and Family Services talk about the new health facility at the school.
Julia Cooper, a licensed professional counselor, right, in her office at Montville High School, listens to Pam Kinder, vice president of marketing and facilities at United Community and Family Services talk about the new health facility at the school.

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