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CCS Considers Plan For In-School Health Center with Private Partners

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Putting full-fledged health clinics in school buildings has long been a dream for the Columbus City Schools.  A plan presented to the board last night shows a way to make at least one central site a reality - at relative low cost.  Alison Holm reports.  

For Columbus Schools' Director of Health, Family and Community Services Kate King, the argument for expanding health care in schools is simple: kids who can't see, can't read, and kids in pain, can't learn. Tuesday night King presented the school board with a proposal three years in the making, to create a central clinic that could provide everything from eyeglasses to immunizations for district students.  King says the plan would require the district to renovate a building adjacent to the Central Enrollment Center on the Fort Hayes campus, a 1-point-4 million dollar project.  Services would come from partners, like PrimaryOne Health.  

"PrimaryOne Health, formerly the Columbus Neighborhood Health Centers, are an established FQHC [federally qualified health center] system tha provide all of these services somewhere around the city in their clinics.  They are willing to operate the health center, be responsible for the fiscal soundness of the operation, lease the required space, provide the staffing segements, and provide the appropriate equipment."  

Vision care would be provided by the charitable arm of Luxottica, one of the largest eyewear makers in the country.  

"One Sight Luxottica would provide $400,000 dollars for state-of-the-art equipment for vision exam and treatment, glasses selection and fitting, glasses repair - which is so important - glasses for student with no insurance, they'll provide an optometrist's salary for two years and an optician's salary for two years."  

OSU's College of Optometry will provide some staff for the vision clinic.  Professor Michael Early says this clinic could bridge the gap for many kids who can't get to the eye doctor.  

"And with the Affordable Care Act most any kid that gets his insurance on the exchange or with a small company automatically has vision care coverage and glasses as part of their essential medical benefit.  So, that's not something that you have to buy anymore; for children under 18, it is an essential medical benefit.  The problem is, insurance does nothing without access.  So if you have a first-grader, second-grader, third-grader that has vision exams and the insurance will cover the glasses, but the parent can't get them there, or the parents don't know the importance or they can't get off work, then that essential benefit that everyone fought for is worthless.  So this is a perfect opportunity to allow them the access."  

PrimaryOne operates several clinics in traditionally underserved parts of the city.  Chief Operating Officer Reed Fraley says many of the costs may be reimbursed by state or federal health programs, but cost won't cut kids out of basic care.  

"We will bill, when there's an opportunity to bill, but when they do not have that opportunity, then we do ask for a modest contribution.  If they're not able to pay that, we continue to provide service.  We provide service for anyone who presents themselves.  We think this is in the broadest terms an access question: what do you do to let somebody succeed in life."  

The proposed clinic is modeled on similar services offered in a pioneering program at Oyler School in the Cincinnati Public Schools.  But King says, by working with partners who will bear the brunt of the estimated 2-point-6 million dollar annual expense, Columbus is poised to do something new that could be easily adopted by other districts in the state.  the next hurdle is handling funding for the renovation of the proposed clinic site.  King says it could be part of a facilities bond levy that may appear on the ballot this fall.

A native of Chicago, naturalized citizen of Cincinnati and resident of Columbus, Alison attended Earlham College and the Ohio State University. She has equal passion for Midwest history, hockey and Slavic poetry.
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