School health centers expand in California


St. Sen. Mark Desaulnier toured the health center at Hercules High School Tuesday. In the morning, a group of California legislative aides and a school board member visited the new wellness center at Oakland High.

School health centers are increasing in California, from 121 in 2004 to 183 centers today. According to the California School Health Centers Association, 12 more clinics will be open by next summer.

Susan Yee directs the center at Oakland High which opened in August, thanks to school construction bond money.

"We try to do a lot of early intervention and prevention and we see over 65 percent of the student body here comes through for first aid, mental health or medical services," said Yee.

The center also has an after school program. Oakland Unified has 15 of these centers, one in every major high school and nine at the middle school level.

"The idea is in order for children to achieve at high levels, you have to create the conditions where high levels of learning can occur. That's not going to happen if children are ill, if they're not well fed, if they are not supported mentally, emotionally, and academically," said Oakland Unified School District spokesman Troy Flint.

The funding to operate them comes from the state and counties and private organizations, but it's the federal government which, over the summer, poured more money into them -- 200 million nationwide.

It's part of the federal health reform law passed by Congress. Of that $200 million, California received $14 million in federal grants. Oakland Unified will get $423,000. The Health Center at Hercules High gets most of its money from non-profits and community partners.

"Cost saving-wise we notice that our students whey they're emotionally, mentally, physically healthy, they're able to do better academically, so it think that's a very holistic approach that we're taking on that," said Rachel Delgado, the health services coordinator.

Health advocates say offering this free or low-cost medical care will save money in the long run.

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