Community Health Center of Snohomish County (CHC) has expanded its school-based health center program to Mountlake Terrace High School, where it is now operating a full-service clinic.
This is the second such student health center in the Edmonds School District operated by CHC and funded by the Verdant Health Commission. The first one — located at Lynnwood’s Meadowdale High School – opened in September 2022.
CHC Business Development Director Zoe Reese and MTHS school nurse Sherman Davidson explained that having the clinic on campus reduces transportation barriers, making health care more accessible regardless of insurance status.
Services are available during the school year, with students able to make appointments before, during or after classes.
“I think that’s a huge part for it to feel like a safe place, a private place, and a place that is designed to meet their needs,” Reese said.
However, privacy assurance reaches beyond the physical and into the digital with separate phone and internet lines from the school.
“We use all of our own services, and that’s not because we don’t trust the school district, but it is because the school district and CHC take privacy really seriously,” Reese explained.
The clinic has an on-staff nurse practitioner to provide a full range of primary care services, including preventive care, immunizations, health screenings, treatment of minor illnesses and injuries, management of chronic conditions and referrals to specialists when necessary.
Reese explained that the clinic follows Washington State law regarding minor consent and when people can self-consent for reproductive or sexual health services. They provide primary care in the scope of age-appropriate reproductive health services around screening rates.
Further, they can offer the full spectrum of birth control options that would be found in a primary medical provider setting.
“We do not do abortions,” Reese said. “We are not an abortion provider, and that is not part of any of our CHC primary care practices.”
A dentist and dental assistant provide a wide range of services, including routine check-ups, cleanings, fillings, health education and promotion of oral hygiene and preventive dental practices.
The clinic is also capable of tooth extractions in an emergency, such as an abscess. However, that procedure is saved as a last resort.
“We want folks to have their own teeth for their whole life,” Reese said.
Davidson explained that the clinic uses a portable hand-held X-ray machine. This small device is far more affordable and takes less room than the more commonly seen dental X-ray system with an armature to hold the camera.
Also, licensed mental health therapists can provide one-on-one or group counseling for various issues. They can help patients develop coping skills, manage anxiety and depression, and provide grief and family support.
Though the clinic offers physical, mental and dental health services, there are limits. Optical care is limited to screenings, with referral to specialists. The clinic also has access to free or reduced vision exams and eyeglasses.
Learning to deal with health insurance can be overwhelming for a young adult focusing on graduation and the next stage of life. The health center provides care coordination, which includes helping students and families connect to additional services in the community and helping them sign up for health insurance.
Although the clinic is designed around people who do not have any form of health insurance, staff work with insurance companies to help with costs. Further, they teach students how to navigate the healthcare system — an essential post-graduation life skill.
“We are designed to be a health care home for folks who don’t have insurance, who have Medicaid or Medicare, who are undocumented or who really struggle to access kind of the more traditional health care settings,” Reese said.
To further remove barriers to health care, the clinic can connect patients to specialty care, assist with arranging transportation services and coordinate interpretation services for appointments if needed.
To learn more about CHC of Snohomish County, click here.
— Story and photos by Rick Sinnett