Around 60 staff, students and Watsonville residents cheered as they welcomed the introduction of a new medical center at Pajaro Valley High School during a grand-opening ceremony Wednesday.
The new health care center, part of a network of school-based clinics functioning under the organization Salud Para la Gente, or Health For the People, has been in the works for more than a year and is the eighth medical center joining the Pajaro Valley Unified School District.
This project, which unites the school district and Salud Para la Gente, a nonprofit health care organization, enables students to receive low-to- no-cost medical care, depending on what they can afford.
The district has more than 19,000 students, all of whom are eligible for care in any of the eight school-based clinics, and students are definitely taking advantage of their new-found health.
Salud reported assisting thousands of students in its 2009-10 year-end report, and with PVHS now in the mix that number could easily grow, as the school's clinic is expected to attract more patients because of its large student population.
“The other schools are five grade schools, which have a maximum of 500 students, and the middle schools, which have a few more, but this school has 1,325, and that's a lot of potential for patients,” said Sara Clarenbach, Salud director of advocacy, community engagement and media relations.
The PVHS clinic will provide medical, dental and vision services, as well as classroom presentations that teach students preventative care—something that Clarenbach says is a vital component of Salud's work.
“It's just an extension of our program, because providers can't simply [perform] magic and fix all the health problems of a student-patient in the exam room or a dental chair,” Clarenbach said. “It's a huge effort to educate patients and their parents on proper nutrition and exercise.”
Associated Student Body president Brenda Hermosillo said she looks forward to the class presentations, because health information is limited to health class, and students typically don't have access to hands-on resources.
“Usually we tend to focus on how to prevent people from getting pregnant, unwanted pregnancies and STDs, but they forget that there's also just regular health care, and students need a lot of information on that, too.” Hermosillo said.
Although the school-based clinics offer an array of medical needs that range from immunizations and physicals to diabetes and STD/HIV treatment, a 2010 triennial survey by the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care found that mental health had the largest increase among students.
To accommodate this demand—especially in crisis intervention—69 percent of school-based health centers began focusing more on this area, an increase from 47 percent in 2006.
Hermosillo said this is the main reason she plans to use the health center.
“I actually have OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and social anxiety, sometimes,” she said. “I'm pretty sure that as soon as I see what they have available that will accommodate me, I'll probably go.”
Although there have yet to be any discussions in regards to opening up clinics at the 24 schools that don't have them, Sara Clarenbach said Salud would be very willing to expand if possible.
“Salud has applied for massive amounts of federal funding through Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency from the federal department of health and human services,” she explained. “Under the Affordable Care Act, there are certain pots of money available for certain functions within health care, and one of them is funding for school-based clinics, so that would be a fund for expansion if it were granted.”
Aside from the eight schools the organization operates, Salud also has two community clinics and administrative offices in Watsonville, and also offers services in Santa Cruz.
For information regarding clinic services, or to schedule an appointment, click here.