A Winding Waters Medical Clinic proposal for a School Based Health Center (SBHC) at Enterprise School — intended mainly to provide medical, dental and counseling services to indigent or underserved children — has created an uproar among some of the Enterprise community.
The community blowback has left staff from both Winding Waters and the school puzzled as survey statistics and school staff observations show a variety of problems including binge drinking, bullying, lack of personal hygiene, depression and other issues among the school’s students.
“Our school needs the center because we’ve got a population of our kids who aren’t getting the medical care they need. The argument is that we have a clinic within walking distance, but for some reason, the kids aren’t doing the walking,” said Enterprise School Superintendent Brad Royse.
He added that children of parents who support the walking solution are probably getting medical care, but the same parents are unaware of children who are not.
Royse said statistics show the addition of a medical professional on campus may cut absenteeism. For example, if a student complains of being ill, he or she is often sent home because no medical professional is on staff to determine whether the illness is legitimate.
At a Sept. 8 school board meeting some audience members accused the school of not alerting the proper authorities when neglect was suspected. “We do let the agencies know, and sometimes their hands are tied. I don’t know the exact percentage, but there is a population of kids here who are not getting their medical needs met,” Royse said.
“I think that’s what people lost track of. That’s what this was designed for, not to usurp parent authority,” he added.
Ultimately, Royse thought most parental opposition resulted from inaccurate information spread from inside and outside the community. “We were trying to do something good and we’re getting stones cast at us,” Royse said.
Olive Branch Family Health and Mountain View Medical Group, which is now owned by the Wallowa Valley Health Care District, both took a stand against the SBHC in a full-page ad published in the Chieftain last week. Neither Olive Branch nor Mountain View would subsequently respond to requests for interviews about the SBHC controversy, however.
Title I elementary school teacher and certified foster home provider Kelly Brown also supports the health center. “I think it has a lot to offer the children and families here. We have a lot of dental needs here, which is always easy to tell. I’ve seen 5-year-olds in kindergarten with teeth rotting out of their mouths,” she said.
Brown stated that one problem she sees is child neglect, which is also the most difficult for DHS personnel and law enforcement to prove. “If I can get that parent to sign up and say ‘OK, they can go (to treatment),’ it will help,” she said.
Although the SBHC will not dispense medication, it can diagnose younger children with ADHD or ADD to see if they qualify for extra teaching services and other help, which does not necessarily include medication. Brown also cited counseling for children who suffer from bullying, another prevalent problem at Enterprise.
Brown also had a response for people who think children should walk to available clinics or have the school drive them. She noted the clinics are a mile away from the school and too far for young children to walk, and school staff cannot drive or accompany a student to a non-school event for reasons of liability. School staff cannot ask others outside the school system to accompany a child for reasons of confidentiality.”
School counselor and six-year school veteran Julie Garland, who works 10-12 hours per week for Enterprise School, had read some of the traffic on social media and email about the proposed health center and wasn’t surprised by the reaction of some at the Cloverleaf Hall meeting. The vitriol did not dissuade Garland from her view that the school the needs an on-campus health center. “Medically, what I’ve seen is kids with medical or dental needs and parents are just not taking them. That’s where I was excited about the clinic. I think we have a lot of families moving into the county who need resources, and they’re available here, but it’s harder for them to access resources. I’m talking about people in poverty,” Garland said.
It is particularly difficult for Garland seeing people take a stand against the health center. “What I see getting lost is people in great need, especially with this being children. They should come first, before fear or mistrust or suspicions. We need to put that stuff aside and look at what’s best for the kids,” she said.
Garland, who counsels about 20 students, doesn’t have a specific percentage of students she sees who would benefit from a health center. She wondered aloud, “How many children does it take to be important? If it’s one child or one teenager it’s important,” she said.
Dr. Elizabeth Powers of Winding Waters Medical Clinic said the clinic started thinking of stepping in and filling the school health care gap when the school lost its nurse due to a lack of funds. The results of a subsequent community survey of adolescent health care convinced the clinic to take action. “We’ve got great health care and a lot of providers, but we have these bad outcomes for our adolescents and our kids. Something is not working — there’s a disconnect,” Powers said.
“There’s a group of kids who don’t have access to health care, and by being accessible to them in a school setting, they don’t need insurance, they don’t need transportation, miss class, or have a parent take off work to drive them to a clinic,” Powers said.
Powers emphasized that WWMC is not trying to entice patients from other clinics, saying she heard the same concerns when WWMC expanded their hours to provide services to people who would otherwise seek treatment at the hospital emergency room.
Powers explained the SBHC would provide free services to students without insurance, while students with insurance would not get charged for services their insurance did not cover. “Urgent care is cheaper than an emergency room visit, and the school health center is cheaper than urgent care,” Powers said.
Like Royse, Powers thinks much of the community ire is the result of misinformation spread by social media and parental rights groups outside the area. She added that local concerns about the center dispensing birth control are untrue and in spite of rumor, the center is not required to do so. “It’s readily available elsewhere in the community,” she said.
Powers said the health center dental services will offer preliminary dental screenings and even provide fluoride varnishes for students. Winding Waters is currently talking to Eastern Oregon University to provide student dental hygienists for the program.
With the higher-than-average depression and bullying rates at the school, the center can provide school counselor Julie Garland with more than her current 10-12 hours per week as well as provide a permanent space for her to provide counseling services. “We hope to have a counselor there four days a week,” Powers said.
In spite of the criticism, Powers expressed optimism about the fate of the health center, saying that high emotions get people engaged with issues. “I’ve always known this community to be generous and caring and it would be hard for me to accept that the community can’t come together around a known and documented need to create services. I have faith in our community that people really care, and as we discuss these fears and issues we’ll have less vocal opposition and more widespread support.”
Winding Waters office manager Jessie Michaelson thought the community would support the health center once people learned of the actual need. “There are kids in our community that need help. I don’t know if the people who come to these meetings either don’t believe these kids exist or don’t care about them. These kids exist, and you can ask people who work or volunteer at the school or even the students themselves. It’s hard to believe that this community that wraps its arms around anyone and everyone wouldn’t want to help these kids,” she said.