Health clinic at MUHS considered to serve students directly

MIDDLEBURY — Local physicians, mental health professionals and school officials are discussing the possibility of opening a health clinic at Middlebury Union High School, a facility through which students could receive medical attention, substance abuse counseling and other services that are beyond the current purview of school nurses.
“The idea itself has been around for a long time,” explained MUHS Principal William Lawson. “It’s been something some of my staff here have always been interested in.”
Among those interested has been Dr. Morris Earle Jr., a physician with Middlebury Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine. Earle has been a dedicated advocate for health care initiatives at Middlebury schools.
“(Earle) has become pretty interested in (the clinic) and extremely helpful in trying to garner support in the medical community and community at large for doing this,” Lawson said. “He has been working with our school nurse and other staff in trying to move this forward.”
Potential collaborators in an MUHS clinic have met a handful of times thus far to hammer out goals for the facility. Those goals would include:
•  Making it more convenient for families to access health services. The convenience of having a clinic in the school could provide an extra incentive for some students to get the medical care they need, particularly if they live in rural areas and have challenges getting transportation to their doctor’s office, according to advocates. Earle hopes the clinic could be staffed by members of the two local pediatric offices — Middlebury Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine and Rainbow Pediatrics. He is also speaking with the Family Practice Department at Porter Hospital about its potential participation.
•  Providing coordinated mental health services to maximize students’ learning potential at school. The Counseling Service of Addison County (CSAC) has offered staff to help staff the clinic.
“CSAC is way on board,” said Cheryl Huntley, director of the agency’s youth and family services division. “We think it’s a great idea.”
The Counseling Service already has two school-based clinicians devoted to MUHS. The agency would provide additional personnel for the clinic.
“Half the battle is having services easily accessible,” Huntley said of the convenience of the clinic for student clients.
•  Offering on-site management of “acute health conditions” to improve school attendance and quality of life. Students suffering from asthma and diabetes, for example, would have a place to go for treatment and basic lab tests. Visiting physicians would be able to prescribe medications, perform basic laboratory tests, schedule and provide mental health counseling and increase the substance prevention counseling that is currently offered at MUHS through Brooke Jette.
“(Jette) does a fabulous job, but she is overwhelmed with work,” Earle said.
Lynn Hall, RN, is one of two medical professionals now serving MUHS.
She called the clinic idea “very preliminary,” but a potentially exciting one for the school community.
“We are hoping to reach those students who, for whatever reason, are not reaching their health care providers and to make it easier for them to do it while they are here,” Hall said.
Hall noted several Vermont high schools are pursuing — or have already established — on-site health care clinics. She listed Burlington High School as a specific example. And Earle met last week with a physician who is coordinating the long-established “Health Hub” that delivers medical services to the six schools in the South Royalton area. The Health Hub has an advisory board that functions with community input.
Proponents of an MUHS clinic expect it to start slowly, initially offering six to eight hours per week. Those hours could increase as more health care professionals elect to participate. The MUHS clinic would serve as a satellite to students’ regular physician settings. Fees would therefore be charged for services. Billing is one of the issues that remains to be sorted out, according to Lawson, who stressed parents would be involved in their children’s use of the clinic.
Earle believes the clinic idea has a lot of potential. The school is offering the use of a room and associated bathroom for the clinic effort.
“School-based health centers are much more convenient for students and help us reach those who have trouble getting into the office,” Earle said. “This is especially true for some of the most pressing problems, such as mental health and substance use.”
And it makes sense for the health care community to be proactive in reaching out to young patients, according to Earle.
“The youngsters may themselves be reluctant to receive care,” Earle said. “It may be easier to see them in the school because there is not as much of an effort that they have to go through to seek out care. There are major limits on the availability of mental health care. The availability of pediatric psychiatry is probably the biggest shortage in the United States right now. Getting in to see a mental health counselor can be quite difficult.”
Porter Medical Center spokesman Ron Hallman acknowledged the clinic proposal and said it will be considered.
“It is a seed that is just starting to germinate,” Hallman said. “It is an intriguing idea, but there is a lot of work to do to see if it makes sense.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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