School health centers get final health reform grants

The last influx of federal funds to boost California’s school health centers came just before the New Year. 

Through the Affordable Care Act 31 California school health centers received more than $14 million in December.

This final round of grants brought California’s total federal funding to more than $30 million since 2011, the most of any state.

School-based health centers, which are usually on or adjacent to schools in low- income areas, offer students – and sometimes community members – free primary care. Several also have dental clinics and more than half provide mental health services.

Serena Clayton is the executive director of the California School Health Centers Association. She says the federal money has gone to 70 school health centers across the state to make it easier for thousands of children to access health care.

She says certain areas will particularly benefit. Clayton says Petaluma, for example, did not have any school health centers. Now, with its recently announced $500,000 federal grant, new clinics will open at Petaluma high schools.

Bakersfield will also be able to open its first school health center using the federal money. And in Tulare, she says, the school health center operating out of a mobile van will now have a facility to provide services.

Clayton says the funds will bring significant impact to less populated areas of California. 

“There’s huge, huge need in the rural areas,” she says. “We haven’t quite figured out the school-based health centers in rural areas. If you look at a map, they tend to be in urban areas, but the Central Valley is getting more.”

Clayton also says the school-based health centers will be more important than ever as almost one million children will be moved from the Healthy Families Program to Medi-Cal this year. She says the transition will be difficult at first for some families to navigate.

“The school-based health center is the ultimate safety net,” Clayton says. “Even if they’ve gotten confused because their physician who used to accept Healthy Families now doesn’t because they’re in Medi-Cal, they can always go to school-based health centers.”

Clayton says since the health reform grants have come to an end, her association will focus on securing state funds. She hopes to get a state-funded grant to expand mental health services this year. 

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