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Advocates push for more school-based health centers, say need is "dire"

Lester Graham

Michigan urgently needs more school-based health centers, a group of health and education officials said this week.

Around 200 Child and Adolescent Health Centers currently exist in schools across the state. They provide both primary care and behavioral health services to children who may not get them otherwise.

“The whole purpose of this is to break down barriers,” said Jeff Cook of Beaumont Health. “Many of our students have no means of transportation to get to their doctor's appointments, and a lot of families struggle with taking time off. Having these additional centers inside these schools will provide an opportunity for these students to receive needed health care services in the form of prevention, mental health, behavioral health and medical [services].”

Deb Brinson, who heads the School-Community Health Alliance of Michigan, said the need for such services has skyrocketed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If we're painting a dire picture, that's because it is dire at this point in time,” Brinson said. “It's sad. Never in our lifetimes have we encountered both as adults and children, the level of persistent and ongoing stress that life has generated.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed budget has earmarked $11 million to build out 40 new school health centers across Michigan. Brinson said she’s “thrilled” with that, but added that “we want to build on that initiative.”

We are thrilled that there's additional funding. But it still will not meet the need,” said Natalie Kasaborski, of the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. “There are students on a waiting list to have primary care providers, to our nurse practitioner [who is] booked all day long with services. It's difficult to say to parents and to kids that you have to wait. So we know the demand is there, so we're hopeful there will be additional funding to help continue to meet that demand.”

Advocates are lobbying state legislators to put $25 million toward building 100 new school-health centers statewide. They urged them to prioritize budget surplus dollars and some of the “billions of federal COVID relief dollars available” on this initiative.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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