MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — Manatee County opened its first-ever school-based health clinic as the district hopes to ensure all students have access to primary care. Plus, research shows students will improve academically if their health is in check. 

What students once knew as classroom portables on Southeast High School’s campus transformed into full-fledged clinics.

“There’s about 1,700 students that go to Southeast High School and they will have access to mental health services, physical health services, dental, vision, all on campus so they can do it during the school day, after school, a time that fits their needs and works with their schedule,” school social worker Amy Hyland said.

The school-based health center is a partnership between the school district, MCR Health and the school clinic. It’s open from the start of school to 4 p.m.

With a nurse practitioner from MCR Health and a nurse in the first building, students can get physical health services.

“All the services that you would have in your regular pediatric office they’ll have in the medical portable,” Heather Keegan said.

It includes sexual health screenings, immunizations, testing for strep throat or the flu or even just getting a sport physical. The clinic also offers students dental, vision and treatments with prescribed medicine.

“There is such a need and I know as a parent myself it’s hard to take time off of work to take my daughter for her physical,” Heather Keegan said.

Keegan is the coordinator for the school-based health center. She says this clinic is meant to help every student on campus no matter their background or struggles.

“There’s barriers such as transportation, and some people don’t have health insurance so with MCR Health partnering with them as the provider they accept Medicaid, they accept most insurance and they also have a sliding fee scale for those who don’t have insurance,” Keegan said.

The second portable is dedicated to mental health services.

“I think especially for our youth in this current world that we live in, it’s so important and even just overall in our healthcare system, mental health is sometimes overlooked,” Keegan said.

With two social workers on site, students can talk to them and get the help they need.

“There’s not a lot of resources out there so by having these services available at school, students can come in, feel comfortable, talk to a counselor individually or also in a group and talk about topics that relate to their needs is going to be huge,” Keegan said.

Amy Hyland is the school social worker for the school district of Manatee County. She wants students to know it’s alright to ask for help or seek guidance.

“Reaching out and using the health center, or talking to a counselor, or a social worker doesn’t mean you have this big issue that should have a stigma attached,” Hyland said. “It just means you want to learn how to handle situations so that when you are an adult, and later in life you are prepared for stressors and you know what to do.”

Hyland stresses that anything talked about inside the walls of the clinic are 100 percent confidential.

“You just sign the consent and your child can come over to the medical side or the counseling side and have their healthcare needs met,” Hyland said. “We’ve been open for about a month now and we’ve seen the word spread around campus that the service is here and a whole bunch of students are taking advantage of it already.”

Keegan says the district chose Southeast High School as the first school to receive a clinic because of its demographics and need in Samoset.

“Plus, you need to have a principal that was willing to take on such a project,” Keegan said. “So our principal, Miss Rosa Faison, she’s awesome and very involved in the community and knew her students could definitely utilize the services.”

“Southeast High School is ready to take the lead with the first school-based health center in Manatee County, because healthy students are the future of tomorrow,” principal Rosa Faison said.

Keegan says the hope is to eventually expand, opening the services to the community and staff.

“Right now, we just have a pediatric provider, but I think that’s also something that they are looking at in the future, having a dual provider to take care of the staff as well,” Keegan said.

She also hopes it reaches other schools.

“My job as a coordinator is to help get this going and after we see the results from the school-based health center here, yes, actually adding school-based health centers at other schools,” Keegan said.

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