Published Feb 23, 2022
By Naomi Creason
An effort that health and school officials hoped would bring better primary and mental health care to children in western Perry County has ended up mired in confusion over what a clinic on a school district campus will provide.
West Perry School District will hold a community question-and-answer session at 7 p.m. March 7 at West Perry Middle School in an effort to clarify plans for Sadler Health Center to open a health clinic in a trailer on the district campus.
Substitute Superintendent Nancy Snyder said a link will be available on the district’s website for the community to submit questions, and the district will collect questions on index cards at the meeting where panelists from the district, Sadler Health Care, the Partnership for Better Health and the Perry County Health Coalition will talk to the community.
The discussion revolves around a trailer on the district campus that Snyder says had most recently been used as storage. It had housed a satellite location for River Rock Academy, but in recent years was used to store sports supplies.
Winston Cleland is a retired West Perry superintendent and current vice chairperson for the Partnership for Better Health. He said the partnership last spring awarded Sadler Health Center a grant of about $70,000 to renovate the trailer at the high school with the idea that Sadler would offer a satellite site offering a pediatric health clinic for children in that area of Perry County.
The grant was awarded, West Perry School District signed a memorandum of agreement for the use of the trailer, and Sadler renovated the trailer to make the interior look more like a doctor’s office.
“The School Based Health Center will serve at least 487 students who are currently patients with Sadler and have to travel over the mountain to Carlisle for care,” Sadler CEO Manal El Harrak said. “The SBHC will serve as a pediatric office offering traditionally known medical and dental services for the families who are interested.”
However, as the board inches closer to a March 14 vote on leasing the trailer to Sadler, officials say they are seeing a lot of confusion and speculation over what services Sadler will offer, parental control over what help students are seeking and privacy regarding what happens at the location.
Concerns and misunderstandings
Through West Perry’s question-and-answer feature on its website, Snyder has seen a number of questions about the Sadler clinic that run the gamut of topics.
Snyder and Cleland said one of the misunderstandings is that the clinic will offer services such as birth control, COVID-19 vaccinations and mental health services to students without parental consent. However, both reiterated that students will need parents to register them as patients, and the clinic — which could be open initially two days a week — will not take walk-ins.
“None of that is possible,” Snyder said. “Students will have to be set up by their parents with Sadler. … Students won’t be forced to go. Parents can choose not to take them there.”
“Participation in the School Based Health Center is optional, and parental consent is required to establish care with Sadler and register the students to receive medical or dental care in the school,” Harrak said. “Sadler will bill the student’s insurance plan for services rendered, and students who are uninsured or underinsured will receive services on a sliding fee discount scale.”
Cleland said another topic of concern — abortion — does not apply to the clinic. Sadler has never conducted abortions and is specifically prohibited by law from conducting abortions, he said.
Snyder said there is also some confusion about funding and how involved the district will be with the clinic. The district is only acting as a landlord collecting minimal payments from Sadler for the lease of the trailer, and the district has no other connection and cannot and will not collect any medical records of patients, she said.
She said there is also no long-term cost for the district, nor is there any federal mandate requiring it to offer a clinic. The clinic simply stemmed out of an opportunity through Sadler and the Partnership for Better Health, which is a nonprofit organization that helps provide funding for health care efforts in Cumberland and Perry counties.
Availability of care
The core reason for the district’s interest is the lack of primary care for children in Perry County, Snyder said.
A number of health needs assessments conducted over the years, including from the Perry County Health Coalition, have found a need for primary care services, especially among children in the western end of Perry County. Snyder said having a pediatric clinic in a central location — with the district being at an ideal spot in that region — would help cut down on waits for appointments, especially for mental health services.
“The school district sees the need for these services for children, in the form of children who are chronically ill, those with behavioral and mental health needs and dental services,” she said.
Snyder said she received some comments that the area doesn’t need the service, but she said these services are something the district’s nursing staff and counselors cannot provide.
“We’re not authorized; we cannot provide health services [as a district]. The school board has been diligent in exceeding the minimum requirement of school nurses. We have one for every school, which many districts do not have. But school nurses are different than primary care physicians. There’s some confusion that we can meet the health and mental health needs, but we’re not authorized to. We’re not a health care provider.”
Cleland said having a Sadler pediatric health clinic is an important step to addressing health care needs in Perry County, especially with an organization like Sadler that helps with uninsured and underinsured patients.
“I strongly urge the board of school directors to approve the lease with the Sadler Health Center,” he said. “There is nothing to lose and much to gain as parents will have the freedom to choose or not choose this comprehensive and competent health provider.”
Email Naomi Creason at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @SentinelCreason