PORT ANGELES — The school-based health center at Port Angeles High School that inspired months of impassioned debate last year has not been nearly as popular as officials had hoped.
North Olympic Healthcare Network opened the health center in January after arguing for months that there is a need for a school-based health center at the school. Since then the health center has seen only three patients and NOHN has had to scale back the effort, making the clinic appointment-only.
Officials from NOHN met with Port Angeles School District officials Friday with hopes of finding ways to get more students to visit the clinic when it reopens next year.
“We acknowledged things had not gone as we might have expected,” said Lynn Keenan, outreach and collaboration manager for NOHN. “A lot of people were thinking ‘if we open they will come’ and that is not what happened.”
She said some students had stopped by the clinic, but were sent home with packets of forms that needed to be filled out by parents. Some packets were returned, but not fully completed and phone calls to some parents went unreturned, she said.
She said the goal is to work on NOHN’s administrative procedures so that when school starts again in September the health center can function more like a walk-in clinic.
NOHN is preparing to do a better job marketing the clinic and plans to have information available to parents during registration for the next school year, she said, adding that about 20 percent of the students at PAHS are already patients at NOHN.
“We fully expect to have our ducks in order so we’re moving as far away from [appointment only] and as close to walk-in availability as we can,” she said. “That clearly is a barrier for people getting in.”
She said there is also a plan to schedule times for student athletes to go in and get physicals, which are required every two years for athletics.
The health center, which was meant to serve as a walk-in clinic, was originally open for four hours once every other week but now is appointment only, officials said during the May 24 Port Angeles School Board meeting.
The board approved a memorandum of understanding with NOHN in a 4-1 vote in August.
Susan Shotthafer, who stepped down from the board in December, was the only board member to vote against the measure.
The idea gained momentum in May of last year when Port Angeles Citizen Action Network and NOHN presented their proposal to the school board.
What ensued was passionate debate in favor and against the health center.
“What I’m wrestling with is the effort put in to getting this to move forward,” said director Dr. Josh Jones. “I’d like to request a representative from NOHN come back before the board in the summer and tell us what the plan is to increase utilization for the upcoming year.”
Superintendent Marc Jackson said one of the obstacles the health center faced was that it started in the middle of the school year.
He said the goal is that during registration for the upcoming school year parents could be provided more information about the health center and have a chance to fill out forms.
He said Monday that the meeting Friday left him optimistic the health center would be successful during the next school year and that the school board would hear a report on the effort during its meeting Thursday.
“We worked very hard to get this health center and I think we have the right people scratching their heads to make this work better,” he said.
Jackson said one of the pitfalls is that the clinic was open for only a half day every other week.
“High school students work in the here and now,” Jackson said. “When they are sick, they go into the clinic.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].