New school-based health center opens at Centennial High School

May 28, 2014

From left: Centennial High School Principal Kevin Ricker; county Commissioner Diane McKeel; Chair Marissa Madrigal; county Commissioner Loretta Smith and Superintendent Sam Breyer.

The choir sang. The superintendent and county commissioners spoke. But it was the student body president Jacque Nelson who identified how important a new school-based health center will be for Centennial High School.

“Every day, students are attending school ill, tired, anxious, worried about their health and well-being. With our economically disadvantaged enrollment rate above 60 percent of our population, health care was a non-option for many suffering students,’’ she said.

“We are thankful and humbled by the opportunity to have free healthcare access in what feels like our own backyards. The Centennial High health care center represents a platform, a safety net and hope for our future.’’

There are more than 216 public schools in Multnomah County. Centennial High became the 13th to house a school-based health center, Superintendent Sam Breyer said. The clinic chalks up several firsts:

  • The clinic is Multnomah County's first school-based health center east of 181st Ave.

  • Centennial High was first East County site chosen by the community after more than 300 Gresham and Rockwood area residents and school officials discussed the issue at more than 30 public meetings.

  • This is the first school-based health center with dental services.

Centennial school-based health center staff jump for joy at the clinic's grand opening. From left: Leslie Balderstom; Alejandra Sanchez; Courtney Kappes; Jill Daniels; Janine K Tebeau-Jemerson; Mariana Voda; Kathy Ruberg; Suzanne Malin; and Nancy Morales.

Multnomah County Chair Marissa Madrigal said that high school graduation is an equalizer of health disparities and that the county works to keep kids in school so they can graduate.

But she added that the impact of caring adults in a student’s life can go far beyond health care.

She told the story of May-Lynn Chu, a Grant High School student athlete who sought asthma care at a school-based clinic. Her introduction to the staff and their caring led her to volunteer for the Multnomah County Health Department.  She served as a student representative on the Community Health Council and stayed involved through college. That connection helped set the course for her future and last weekend, May-Lynn graduated from medical school.

Centennial High School student body president Jacque Nelson addresses the crowd during the clinic's grand opening.

Madrigal joined county Commissioners Diane McKeel and Loretta Smith, Principal Kevin Ricker and Centennial students Jacque Nelson and Blanca Gaytan-Farfan. School and health leaders thanked the center’s Health Department staff, particularly school-based health center manager Jill Daniels, who had first approached the East County districts about locating a center in their area.

The health center, located in the high school’s former school woodshop, was funded by a $500,000 Affordable Care Act grant and a $60,000 state grant.

Staff will provide comprehensive preventive, primary and mental health care for children ages 5 to 18. The goal is to keep young people healthy and ready to learn.

Studies show school-based health centers decrease school absences and discipline problems. Adolescents are 10 to 20 times more likely to have access to mental health services at school versus a community clinic. These centers focus on prevention and early intervention. The centers also reflect Multnomah County’s unique role in the safety net.

“We provide services to kids regardless of whether they have private health insurance, public health insurance, or no insurance at all,’’ said Jill Daniels, manager of the school-based centers.