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HHS issues expansion grants for school-based health clinics

January 29, 2012

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) last month awarded a total of more than $14 million in grants to expand and modernize 45 school-based health centers across the country.

The grants will allow the clinics to serve nearly 50 percent more children each year, according to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The increased funding will also allow clinics to expand the range of health care services offered and, in some cases, allow clinics to begin offering eye and vision care, the AOA Advocacy Group notes.

“Millions of children are not receiving essential eye care services, which can prevent eye disease, developmental delays, school and social achievement problems,” AOA President Dori Carlson, O.D., noted following last year’s AOA-sponsored School Readiness Summit–Focus on Vision. “Vision disorders are the fourth most common disability in the U.S.  Vision problems affect 20 to 25 percent of children in the U.S., some 12.1 million. Eighty percent of a child’s learning occurs through visual input. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, only 36 percent of all preschool children received even a vision screening – let alone a comprehensive eye examination. Studies from the past two decades reveal that there exists a public health emergency with respect to child vision health in the United States and that we are making no progress toward its solution.”

In addition, growing concern over systemic conditions such as diabetes, which has ocular manifestations and has reached epidemic proportions in many school-age populations, as well as the increased emphasis on eye safety in school sports programs, could make on-site eye and vision care attractive to school administrators, suggested Michael Duenas, O.D., AOA associate director of public health policy.  

“Having the local OD come to the school a day or two a week might make sense for all concerned,” Dr. Duenas said.

The 45 school-based clinics included in last month’s grant allocations already provide health care to 112,000 children, according to the HHS.  

The increased funding, authorized under the federal Affordable Care Act, will now allow them to treat an estimated additional 53,000 children in 29 states.

School-based health centers enable children with acute or chronic illnesses to attend school and improve the overall health and wellness of all children through health screenings, health promotion and disease prevention activities.

Typically, a school-based clinic provides a combination of primary care, mental health care, substance abuse counseling, case management, dental health, nutrition education, health education and health promotion activities.

The newly announced grants can be used for construction, renovation or new equipment.

“These grants will enable school-based health centers to establish new sites or upgrade their current facilities, which will increase their ability to provide preventive and primary health care services, and help children improve their health and remain healthy,” said HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield, R.N. 

“Schools that are planning to use the grants to provide on-site dental may find it advantageous to consider adding multi-use exam rooms that could house dental and optometry,” Dr. Duenas said.

The AOA Advocacy Group suggests optometrists, who are interested in providing school-based care, contact grant recipients to determine if on-site optometric care would be appropriate for their school clinics.

In some cases, recent optometry school graduates may wish to consider providing care in school-based clinics as a way of establishing a practice, Dr. Duenas said.

In all, the Affordable Care Act provides $200 million in funding over the period from 2010 to 2013 for the HHS School-Based Health Center Capital Program to address significant and pressing capital needs and to improve delivery and support expansion of services at school-based health centers.

The grants announced last month are the second in a series of awards that will be made available to school-based health centers under the act. 

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) oversees the School-Based Health Center Capital Program.

A full list of School-Based Health Center Capital Program grantees is available at www.hhs.gov/news/press/2011pres/12/20111208a_grantees.html.

To learn more about School-Based Health Centers, visit www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/2011/12/health-centers12082011a.html.

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