By Luke Frank

Flu Fighters

School-Based Health Centers Run Point on Student Wellness

Nearly 4,200 students visited clinics operated by UNM Medical Group, Inc., on six public school campuses in Albuquerque last school year, seeking treatment for everything from flu symtoms to sports physicals to anxiety.

"We're the only place in New Mexico that provides adolescent-specific health care," says medical director Mary Ramos, MD. "We work closely with the schools to provide adolescent-targeted care where none is available. It's a great benefit to our students and the community."

In a unique collaboration with Albuquerque Public Schools, these frontline school-based health clinics (SBHCs) are part of UNM's Department of Pediatrics, Division of Adolescent Medicine program. The clinics are managed and staffed by the UNM Medical Group, Inc. - a not-for-profit corporation of more than 1,100 practitioners in 152 specialties.

The clinics provide integrated health services to any student, regardless of ability to pay, including physical and behavioral health, health education and even case management.

The six clinics, funded and supported by the UNM Medical Group, the New Mexico Department of Health and Bernalillo County, operate at Albuquerque, Highland and Manzano High Schools, Van Buren and Washington Middle Schools and East San Jose Elementary School.

High school clinics are open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, while middle and elementary school clinics are open two days per week.

"School-based health centers are a great model for teenagers who don't regularly see a physician," says Jane McGrath, MD, a UNM pediatrician and former chief of adolescent medicine. "We're doing lots of physicals right now for spring sports, but we can see bigger, deeper issues too, like depression or opioid dependence. We also find ourselves working with kids whose parents are getting divorced or have experienced a death in the family."

"Our most common visits are well-student checks, sports physicals, depression and anxiety and comprehensive reproductive health," McGrath adds. "Right now we are seeing a lot of kids with colds and flu - a great opportunity to start a relationship with someone who might otherwise not know about the SBHC and our services. We also help kids who have asthma, diabetes and other chronic conditions, providing day-to-day contact that helps kids keep on track with their medication and other health care needs."

The clinics generally are staffed by nurse practitioners, physician assistants, social workers, clinical coordinators and medical assistants. However, the UNM SBHC clinics have access through the medical group to expert pediatricians, case managers, health educators, social workers, psychiatrists - even dental hygienists and dentists.

The clinics also serve as a training ground for medical students and residents in pediatrics, psychiatry and sports medicine, as well as students of pharmacy, health education, social work and advanced practice nursing.

"We work closely with each school to impact the student culture, while providing health services directly to kids, especially during flu season," McGraths says.

Categories: Community Engagement, Health