Maple Street's school-based health clinic idea takes a step toward fruition

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon/Rockville - posted Wed., Apr. 24, 2013
Vernon School's Director of Pupil Personnel Services Patricia Buell (left) and Maple Street School principal Lois Possell talk to the Vernon Board of Education about the planned health clinic at the school's community school program, at the board's April 22 meeting. Photos by Steve Smith.
Vernon School's Director of Pupil Personnel Services Patricia Buell (left) and Maple Street School principal Lois Possell talk to the Vernon Board of Education about the planned health clinic at the school's community school program, at the board's April 22 meeting. Photos by Steve Smith.

The hope to institute a health clinic at Maple Street School's Community School program moved one step closer to fruition, as the Vernon Board of Education voted 4-2 at its meeting on April 23 to accept a partnership with First Choice Health Centers of East Hartford. The clinic would operate both at Maple Street School and Rockville High School, and would run at no cost to the school system.

Vernon Schools Director of Business and Finance Michael Purcaro said the school district had followed the process correctly, by issuing a request for proposal. Although there were no bidders, the business requirements were satisfied and the board is then free to work with any vendor, and First Choice's proposal was received after that process was complete.

Purcaro added that there was “significant funding” from First Choice, including some from outside grants, that would mean there would be no cost to Vernon Schools. He added that the clinic could potentially necessitate modifications to the school building, but that would have to go through the facilities committee process and come back to the board.

“Basically, that's saying this isn't a blank check to go and start doing something,” said Board Chair Dean Houle. “They're going to bring us plans and everything else, and there is more review process by the board after this.”

Patricia Buell, director of pupil personnel, said the members of the community were clearly for the idea of a health clinic at the school, and the state Board of Education also has a clear position on the clinics, in general. “The focus is to reduce health and educational disparities facing Connecticut students, to ensure that all students have the opportunity to achieve academically, and become healthy, productive citizens,” Buell said, adding that there has also been additional funding added for Alliance Districts (of which Vernon is one) to support “wrap-around services.”

“A piece of developing a community school is providing mental health service [and] healthcare services to our students,” Buell said, also adding data that shows more than 75,000 children in Connecticut are uninsured, and many more that are under-insured. “By the development of a school-based health clinic, we would be able to provide equal medical, dental and mental health services to the students of Vernon schools.”

Connecticut has several school districts with similar clinics in place, including East Hartford, New London, Windham and Norwich.

Three members of the public spoke in favor of the clinic during the public comment portion of the meeting. “We feel it would benefit our community greatly,” said Diane Ambeau, a Maple Street PTO member. “We think it will help our parents and our students. Many of our parents don't have transportation and can't get to doctors' offices when they have sick children.”

Bryan Flint, a part-time employee with the School-Family-Community Partnership, said the board should take First Choice's offer while it can. “I really don't think that, at another time, a group is going to come in and offer to take care of the money themselves to make this happen. I beg you – beseech you – to take this opportunity and vote positive on this,” Flint said.

Members of the board had concerns, mainly of potential liability issues. “A malpractice claim coming in, and they're at our building, or an infectious disease spreads,” board member William Nicholson said. “What has been done to address our liability in those events?”

Board member David Kemp pointed to a part of the agreement which states that as the only federally-qualified health center in Vernon, the center would qualify for malpractice coverage through the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Purcaro said there would be a slight increase in the district's insurance coverage, but there would also be a requirement in the agreement with First Choice for that insurance as well.

Board member Michele Arn cited a statement by State of Connecticut Department of Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor who said the focus should be on education and making sure that other agencies are doing their jobs. “He made that statement right out of the gate,” Arn said, “that holding other agencies accountable is what we should be doing because education is our primary service.”

Buell answered by saying that the state does support collaborative efforts, such as this one. “The state department of education does support the community school model, and part of the community school model does include school-based health clinics,” she said.

Buell added that by putting a clinic in a school, as opposed to an off-site location, is also a helpful benefit, because families are already familiar with the school community. “We have developed a relationship with our families,” she said. “Families trust us. They know that we care about them.”

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