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Waterford schools to open two school health clinics in September

Waterford — United Community and Family Services (UCFS) has partnered with the school system to open two school-based health centers at Waterford High School and Clark Lane Middle School for the 2021-2022 school year.

UCFS, a non-profit healthcare organization, has six other school-based clinics in the region. The two-year contract with the school system here, calls for providing additional support for the physical and behavioral health care of students.

"We are very excited about expanding our partnership with Waterford Public Schools," said Jennifer Granger, President and CEO of UCFS, in a press release.

Granger said she is certain the experience UCFS has with school-based health centers in the area, most in Norwich, shows how valuable school access to health services can be for students and families. 

The partnership arose when Superintendent Tom Giard saw a need for additional nursing and social work services for students. He then reached out to UCFS because he said they are known and trusted in the community.

"The idea behind it is greater access to health care," said Giard.

The centers will provide yearly well-child examinations, vaccinations, sports physicals, acute care visits and chronic care visits for diagnoses such as for asthma and ADHD. Behavioral services include mental health assessments, substance abuse screenings, and ongoing counseling.

For medical attention, an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse will split time between the high school and middle school three days a week. A behavorial clinician will be at each school five days a week. The centers will be available to all students in the system regardless of grade. Services are billed to the student's insurance carrier and assistance is provided to the uninsured or they are charged a fee based on their family's income.

Parents must enroll their children to receive care from the clinic online with UCFS. The form is available to parents in English and Spanish.

Danielle Kempsta, an APRN and the practice manager for UCFS' school-based centers, has worked with the organization for five years. She is based at Norwich Free Academy and said school-based health centers makes a difference in the lives of students calling them amazing.

Kempsta said she likes that school-based APRNs are able to assist students that would otherwise not receive care and form close relationships with them.

She stressed that the APRNs maintain "lines of communication" and work with pediatricians and other providers but do not replace them. 

She said she also assures parents that the school's regular nurses and guidance counselors are not replaced by the clinics, which provide an additional benefit for the students.

Kempesta said she found counseling to be especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic when students were able to get behavioral help via telehealth and speak to their specialist virtually. Garner says students diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depression can receive the ongoing one-on-one or group sessions they may need with a licensed behavioral clinician through the clinic.

Garner and Kempsta both agree one of the biggest barriers to the health care of children is the parents' inability to take time off from work to go the doctor's or access quick medical attention. The clinic provides these services.

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