School-Based Health Centers Fill Gaps in Kids’ Health Care

Child receiving health care services
Father comforts his young daughter as she gets bloodwork done at one of our SBHCs

Why School-Based Health Centers Matter

February is National School-Based Health Center Awareness Month, a campaign to raise awareness of the valuable services offered by school-based health centers (SBHCs). Many parents across Connecticut struggle to access health care services for their children. Lack of health care is a problem that no one, especially children, should face. That is why, as part of InterCommunity Health Care’s mission to provide affordable and accessible healthcare to all, we work with schools to provide health care for kids.

Intercommunity’s school-based health centers (SBHCs) serve nearly 2,500 students in seven East Hartford schools. The services go beyond those of the school nurse to support every student’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. 

Licensed by the Department of Public Health, SBHCs give students, including those with limited or no insurance, access to free mental and physical health services within the schools. SBHCs minimize disruptions to learning and eliminate transportation, financial, and other traditional barriers to care.  

Man smiling
Joe Leroy, Principal of Mayberry Elementary

“The services are right there,” says Joe Leroy, Principal of Mayberry Elementary. “Parents can schedule appointments, have their child enrolled, and be seen during the school day on-site, which results in minimal disruption to their child’s academic day and the parent’s work-day.”

Since January of 2021, InterCommunity’s SBHCs have provided around 10,000 mental health and primary care visits. Nearly 6,000 are mental health services including counseling, crisis intervention, and mental health screenings. The remaining include primary care services such as physicals, vaccines, treatment of ongoing conditions, and lab testing. While the centers do not replace pediatricians, they do provide essential care for hundreds of kids without insurance.

Sharon Bremner, Director of Pupil Personnel Services for East Hartford Public Schools, explains the importance of these services. “The centers play a vital role in the community when families may not have access to a pediatrician. It’s a way for a child starting the school year to get their up-to-date physicals and vaccinations. It’s a great opportunity for our families.”

Addressing the Major Issues

In a statement from December 2021, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy stressed the need to address the youth mental health crisis. Limited resources make addressing these needs challenging for schools.

Woman smiling
Sharon Bremner, EHPS Director of Pupil Personnel Services

“With the pandemic and the increasing need for children’s mental health care, [SBHCs] have played a tremendous role in being able to support our kids,” said Bremner.

Staff see students needing more support around depression and anxiety, trauma, absenteeism (missing school), nutrition, and food insecurity.

“Food insecurity is a huge issue,” says Tricia Orozco, InterCommunity’s Director of SBHCs.

Though one of the richest states in the country, 11.9% of CT residents are considered food insecure (not having reliable access to a sufficient amount of affordable, nutritious food). East Hartford is one of the state’s top five cities for food insecurity. Sixty-one percent of East Hartford public school students qualify for free or reduced lunch. In August 2020, United Way reported that 43% of households in East Hartford do not earn enough money to meet their basic human needs. Black and Hispanic residents are most impacted.

SBHCs have resources to help including a food pantry at Mayberry Elementary School and partnerships with Food Share CT to host holiday food drives. However, we continue to see more demand.  

Group of people holding food items and smiling
Tricia Orozco (far left) with school-based health center staff as they organize Thanksgiving dinner ingredients for SBHC families

InterCommunity recently received a grant from CIGNA to launch a food access program. This program will work within the SBHCs to link students and their families with community resources, education and activities about healthy eating, and other tools.

“When basic health needs and/or social-emotional needs are met, [kids] are more successful in school,” Leroy said. “Teachers utilize SBHCs not as something extra, but as an addition to our team.”

Going Above and Beyond

Teenager receiving COVID vaccine
East Hartford high school student receives COVID vaccine

Every day InterCommunity staff work hard to address students’ needs.

“Our SBHCs staff go above and beyond their job description,” Orozco said, “They are compassionate and caring. They have offered services throughout the pandemic in person and reduced barriers to care for parents and students. I’m proud to oversee this team of dedicated employees.”

This work would not be possible without collaboration and support of the East Hartford Board of Education, the Administration of the East Hartford Public Schools (EHPS), the faculty, community stakeholders, students, and families.

“Thank you to the administration of the EHPS for partnering with us. We appreciate the strong relationships that we have built with you,” said Orozco. “And a thank you to the East Hartford community for welcoming us into your schools.”

How to Enroll Your Child

SBHC services are available in English and Spanish to students enrolled in the following schools: East Hartford High, Synergy Alternative, East Hartford Middle, Mayberry Elementary, Silver Lane Elementary, Langford, and Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC) at Hockanum School. Enroll your child in SBHC services by calling the school directly. For more information, please visit the SBHCs page.