JEWELL — The Jewell School Board on Monday narrowly approved applying for a grant to start a campus health center that would open to students and residents, despite concerns from board members over letting people and their health issues on campus.
The school board’s 3-2 approval clears the Clatsop County Public Health Department to apply for a $60,000 annual grant from the state’s school-based health center program.
Michael McNickle, the county’s public health director, said he reached out to Jewell’s administration to gauge interest after learning there were more grants available for medically underserved communities such as Jewell and Knappa, whose board he will reach out to next.
The school district would provide the building and utilities for the health center. The county would handle staffing it with a physician’s assistant, potentially saving the district $10,000 by eliminating the need for a school nurse. The health center could provide primary care services such as general exams, sick visits, treatment of minor injuries, vaccinations, alcohol and drug counseling and mental health services. It could issue prescriptions, but would not carry pharmaceuticals.
The county opted to avoid the potential controversy around providing reproductive health services and will instead leave that up to communities, McNickle said. The Astoria School Board, facing a backlash by some residents concerned over reproductive health services and parent permission, voted in 2013 not to partner with Coastal Family Health Center on a school-based health center.
Jewell is more than 30 miles from the nearest medical clinic in Seaside. The school district has a nurse, but she provides the legal minimum of services and is only around three days a month, said Superintendent Alice Hunsaker.
“There is no comparison from what we have now to what this would offer — day and night difference,” she said.
Several board members raised concerns about the attention having a medical clinic on campus would bring.
“We have some very unsavory people in this community,” said Brian Meier, a board member who voted against applying for the grant. “The liability outweighs the benefit.”
The health center would be better placed in a nearby Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office substation or the Elsie-Vinemaple Rural Fire Protection District, Meier said.
Michael Stahly, a board member who also voted “no,” said he agreed with Meier and was concerned over the state mandates that could come with a health center.
As of last year, there were nearly 80 school-based health centers in 25 Oregon counties. During Hunsaker’s involvement with several health centers in central Oregon, she never heard of any troubles involving the public, she said.
Board chairman Bryan Swearingen and board members Ginger Kaczenski and Michael Wammack voted in favor of the health center. Although she supported trying to get the grant, Kaczenski said she wants more information on how other health centers manage tough situations with the public. Board members included a requirement that they vote again on whether to accept the county’s grant.
The grant application is due next month, and the winners chosen late this year. The hope is that the grant can help start the health center, and that the services provided to the community over the summer and other breaks will make it more financially sustainable while helping people regardless of their ability to pay, McNickle said.
“I really think we should meet the needs of the community,” he said.