By: JONATHAN BISSONNETTE
CENTRAL FALLS - The neighborhood health station at Central Falls High School which provides health and medical care for students, is considered to be an opportunity to build a culture of health for the school and city as a whole, officials said.
Christine Hansen, chief operating officer with Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, explained that the clinic opened in October 2014 and since then “we’ve seen skyrocketing growth in the number of students who have used the center here.”
“That’s due to the engagement of school administration, staff, practice managers, and providers here, Hansen said, calling the center “extremely valuable. It helps (students) engage in primary care, it’s very convenient for them to come during school hours, it’s much more accessible.”
The center provides health and medical care for students. Central Falls formerly had a school-based health center at the high school years ago, but it was closed due to a lack of funding. The school-based health center shares an electronic medical record with Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, ensuring a seamless transition of health information for students and health center patients.
The health station is designed to build community, create economic development, transform health care delivery through local communities, and provide a place for people to gather with friends to exercise and grow together, officials have said.
Michael Fine, senior clinical and population health services officer at Blackstone Valley Community Health Center and the health policy adviser to city of Central Falls, said an additional benefit of the center is that it engages an adolescent segment of the community that in general either won’t or don’t often come to seek primary care.
“It’s a great opportunity to bring primary care to them,” Fine said.
Beata Nelken, an MD with Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, said that by creating a clinic on site where the students exist, they have a better chance to reach some of the community’s more high-risk population, which could include drug involvement or sexual activity.
Since opening, the clinic has had 350 students enrolled and Nelken said she hopes to double or triple that figure within a year via outreach to the middle school.
The 350 is “low but we’ve gone through some staffing re-arrangements, now we’re full tilt,” Nelken said. “It’s a really powerful team in partnership with the school. There’s a lot of momentum and force behind it, a lot of people power.”
“This is unique because every child in Central Falls could be coming through these doors,” Nelken later said. “It’s phenomenal for its potential to reach everyone in the city, sway them in a more healthy direction and get them education about health and prevention.”
Fine agreed, saying the clinic “gives us an opportunity to build a culture of health for the school and city as a whole.”
Troy Silvia, principal at Central Falls High, called it “truly a partnership … It’s not just a clinic in our school, it’s a partnership.”
“Most mornings, (Nelken) is up there greeting students,” Silvia said. “We’re already looking at ways to enrich programs … to build these types of awareness campaigns as well as after-school opportunities to get involved with all happenings at clinics and services they can obtain in the community.”
Silvia said the clinic allows the opportunity to provide for a student on every level – social, mental, and physical. He said the convenience for students is also beneficial, noting that most Central Falls High athletes have their physicals performed at the clinic.
Another benefit is that students don’t miss school for a doctor’s appointment and their parents don’t have to be absent from work to take their children to the doctor, Nelken said.
“They’re not missing school, they’re here all the time, they look at school as somewhere I can get help,” Silvia said, noting that the clinic could be almost as convenient as walking into the nurses’ office at a traditional high school.
Nelken said that some valuable assets at the clinic include a bilingual health intern from Rhode Island College who is working with the clinic this spring and assisting in outreach. Additionally, a community health worker was hired for outreach and engagement in the student population. There is also a “teen mom outreach program” that is under development to engage teenage mothers or those who are at risk for other pregnancies or may be at risk for not graduating.
The clinic is open Monday through Friday throughout the school year and open to students attending Central Falls High.
Original Pawtucket Times article can be accessed here