CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — School-based health clinics have been serving school districts and communities in Ohio for over 30 years.
Through the program, with a parent's consent, students can receive routine checkups, immunizations, sports physicals and screenings.
“They are very needed," said Linda Rudy.
Rudy is the head nurse for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District, where they partner with MetroHealth Hospitals to offer the program. Since 2019, MetroHealth nurses and doctors have kept tabs on students' health and well-being at no cost to the student.
"We know we have some of the best health care in the world here in Cleveland, but we know not everyone has access to that care," said Dr. Vanessa Maier. "So these partnerships can really expand access to services.”
Maier serves as MetroHealth's School Health Medical Director. She's also an alum of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights District. She said most of the time her team is doing basic checks to make sure kids can see, hear and are without cavities. But sometimes, they deal with complex issues that require their team to refer students to specialized doctors.
“So a lot of what we do is optimizing those conditions so that students can fully engage in their education," she said. "But sometimes we see really complex patients and we really need to coordinate specialized care for them. We ensure that there is not one child who's struggling academically because of an unmet health care need."
Rudy said these free services can also ease the burden for parents.
"They don’t have to worry about scheduling appointments, getting their children there, taking time off work. I think it’s a huge, huge benefit," the head nurse said.
MetroHealth Hospitals also partners with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Positive Education Program and the Urban Community School to provide school-based health services.
But groups across the state are pushing for more state funding to add additional clinics to Ohio's school districts.
“There’s so many people and so many partners that have been able to weigh in and say ‘This is what important; this is what we need to be investing in for children," said Tracy Najera, the executive director of the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio. "They played such an important role prior to the pandemic, and now even more so today."
Najera's nonprofit and other child advocacy groups are asking the state to allocate $25 million from the American Rescue Plan Act for the next two years to help set up clinics for additional districts in the state.
"We believe that a $25 million per year allocation will help about 15 to 25 school districts. So in total, I mean, we could see about 30 to 50 school districts," said Najera. "I also think it's fair to say that this isn't needed in all districts. That is not at all what we're suggesting. But there is need that exists."
Ohio received about $5 billion from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. So far, about $3 billion has yet to be allocated. According to the Treasury Department, funds must be incurred by Dec. 31, 2024.
Maier and Najera both said the pandemic has highlighted the need for these centers.
"We really recognized kids were missing out on preventive services, falling behind on immunizations, having chronic underlying medical conditions lack optimal management," said Dr. Maier.
"So we know coming through this pandemic there’s a lot to catch up on for children, you know and for a lot of kids," Najera said. "That interaction with the school nurse or that referral to school based health center that’s really a lifeline for that child in their family to get."
Najera is hopeful their proposal will be approved by the state.
"We feel very encouraged by the conversations that not only our organization has been having, but our partners... with different agencies and state governments and local government," she said.