The Springfield School District will offer medical, dental and mental health services under an agreement recently reached with the nearby Springfield Medical Care Systems.
Josh Dufresne, the chief of practice operations at Springfield Medical Care Systems, said the service highlights the heightened role the public schools are playing in supporting families.
“Somewhere along the line, everything changed — and I don’t know if it was the family infrastructure collapsing a bit or if it was more of the economy collapsing a bit, but the schools somehow became responsible for a lot more than just teaching kids, right?" Dufresne said. "And so, this is what we’re taxed with right now.”
Springfield Medical Care Systems manages Springfield Hospital and oversees a number of pediatricians and specialists in the region. Under the agreement with the district, a doctor, dentist or mental health specialist will circulate through the district's four schools once every two weeks or so.
The schools are providing the office space, and the patient’s family pays for the service just like they would at the doctor’s office.
The school district is sending out notices and getting release forms signed so that when students are coming in, the doctors can treat the patients.
Dufresne said the doctors will have access to student health records and that parents will be consulted when they need to be — but he said there are some landmines to navigate when you’re dealing with minors who are walking into a doctor’s office without a parent.
“We want to have the access, we don’t want to discriminate on any type of conversation,” said Dufresne. “If a child wants to come in and talk to us about anything, we want to be there for them. So there are some, I would consider, 'hot-button topics,' and I do know they will definitely come up and they will be handled privately with the patient.”
Springfield High School Nurse Jenny Anderson has been working in the district for 28 years, and she said through the years it has been challenging to treat children with chronic conditions who did not get the proper care she thought was warranted.
With a doctor in the school, she hopes students will be able to address their health and dental needs.
“Our real goal is more preventive — keeping them healthy so that they don’t have as many ... emergency room visits and having them, you know, have contact with a physician on a regular basis,” Anderson said.
Springfield School District Superintendent Zach McLaughlin said the program has been under discussion for a few years. He said the district doesn’t have to invest any money into the services, and after the district was able to find the space for the doctors, everybody supported the plan.
"We know there’s a lot we want to do for kids to ... put them in a position where they can learn on a daily basis that we’re challenged to fund,” McLaughlin said. “And so I’m in a position now where I’ve got four social workers I effectively do not pay for. I’ve got on-site medical care. I’ve got on-site dental care. And so we’re able to do it in a way that provides the care, [and] doesn’t put the bill on the school district."
The program in Springfield will be rolling out over the next few weeks.
Ben Truman with the Vermont Department of Health said that while the state isn’t tracking how many schools are opening up clinics, the practice does seem to be increasing across the state.
“We are hearing of communities and schools around the state that are working to establish relationships with local health care providers to set up school-based or linked services to complement provider practice efforts, and address acute and ongoing needs of students and their families,” Truman said in an email message. “What we have seen so far gives us encouragement that these efforts will support our common focus on protecting and promoting the health of our children.”
And Truman said the state is working with schools to make sure that the student’s primary doctor knows about any treatment that occurs at school.