Snohomish County’s first school-based health center launched at 8 a.m. Sept. 12 and when staff first opened their doors, there were already three students waiting to be seen by medical professionals.
The health center, which used to be a supply closet at the end of a hallway in Meadowdale High School, has been serving students every day since it opened, said Mara Marano-Bianco, the Edmonds School District’s director of health services.
Marano-Bianco said the health center has already made a positive impact on school district students and families. Rather than waiting for days, weeks or even months to see a doctor, students can leave class and be seen by a medical professional, usually within half an hour.
On the center’s opening day, nine students were able to receive all their required immunizations to attend school. Because of this convenience, Marano-Bianco said every MHS student was able to start school on time this year, which has not happened for years.
“I’m thrilled and honored to be part of what is such a momentous day today,” said Edmonds School District Interim Superintendent Dr. Rebecca Miner.
Since the center is federally qualified, it can provide dental, medical and mental health care to all students, regardless if they are covered by health insurance. School Board President Nancy Katims said the center will help all students in the district receive care they may not otherwise get due to various circumstances such as scheduling conflicts or a family being unable to afford medical bills.
Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen voiced her appreciation for all of Marano-Bianco’s hard work in getting the center off the ground.
“She was aware that we had unmet health needs in our community, but more importantly, in our students,” Geaslen said. “And she asked, ‘What can we do?’ Then she went and did it.”
Geaslen said having the center on campus will help students maintain better attendance in class since a typical appointment will take roughly half an hour, rather than a student being absent the whole day to attend one doctor’s appointment.
“When we provide free health services for students, they win,” she said.
The center is currently in what staff refers to as Phase 1. Services are on a rotating schedule: Monday and Friday are medical care days, Wednesday and Thursday are mental health days and dental services are offered on Tuesday. However, Marano-Bianco is hoping soon to be able to provide every service Monday through Friday.
For convenience, most of the staff working at the center are from the Community Health Center of Snohomish County Lynnwood clinic, which is a short drive away. Marano-Bianco said this will be beneficial in case a staff member calls in sick because in just a few minutes, another staff member can drive over and cover that shift.
Meadowdale High School Principal Dave Shockley said the center will help students receive the care they need without sacrificing their education.
“This will remove any barriers for students who are trying to come to our school and be educated,” Shockley said. “Some come with serious medical, dental or social-emotional health challenges and this center will help address those needs and make sure those students are here and able to focus on learning.”
The center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. so students can receive care after school as well in case they don’t want to miss classes.
The center’s staff will work closely with school nurses to ensure students are getting the appropriate care. If a student’s needs seem more pressing than what the nurse can provide, the nurse will contact the center and send the student over to receive proper care. Students and families are also able to call or email the center to schedule an appointment or talk to their teacher about leaving class to receive care.
Chief Operating Officer of Community Health Center of Snohomish County Adam Heath said he is excited to see more centers begin popping up throughout the county.
“This is just the beginning of a long journey for all of us,” he said.
Lynnwood City Councilmember Julieta Altamirano-Crosby said it has been her personal goal, as well as that of the entire city council, to remove socioeconomic barriers to health care access for everyone in the community, and she’s excited to see some of those barriers finally being lifted.
“While this is the first of its kind, we hope this is just the start of providing equitable services to all the students in this county,” Altamirano-Crosby said.
Thanks to generous partnerships with Verdant Health Commission and Community Health Center of Snohomish County, Marano-Bianco said the center has cost the school district next to nothing besides paying staff for their time.
Meadowdale High School’s ASB students will be creating a short film about the center to encourage fellow students to check it out and use the facilities as much as they need.
“We want [students] to be comfortable coming to us,” said Community Health Center Dental Director of Operations Anna Scheglov.
Currently, the facilities are only available to Meadowdale High students, but Marano-Bianco said staff hopes to expand services to more students when they acquire more funding.
Students and families can schedule appointments by calling 425-903-5750 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Story and photos by Lauren Reichenbach