Ohio Dedicates American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) Funds for School-based Health Centers
December 21, 2021
By Kelly Vyzral, Senior Health Policy Associate
The research is clear, children who attend school regularly are going to do better academically. When a child is inconsistent in school attendance, or experiences chronic absenteeism, they are subjected to long-term, negative effects, such as lower academic achievement and graduation rates, which leads to decreased higher education participation and employment later in life. The research is also clear in that children who are healthy are less likely to miss school and more likely to be engaged in learning. According to research conducted nationally, children who suffer from chronic conditions or untreated medical needs, such as asthma, tooth pain, diabetes, and other conditions, are more likely to be chronically absent from school. Today, nearly 170,000 children in Ohio under age 18 have been diagnosed with asthma, and 20% of third graders have untreated cavities. These health issues are treatable and manageable and should not be a barrier to school attendance, children’s learning opportunities, and future opportunities in life, yet they are main contributors to disconnecting children and their learning.
Finding Care is Challenging in Parts of Ohio
According to the 2019-2020 National Survey of Children’s Health, an estimated 69,000 school-age children in Ohio were not able to access needed health care. That’s 69,000 children who were not able to get a yearly check-up, care for an earache, or treatment for a toothache. There are many reasons why these children were unable to access care. They could live in an area with a shortage of health care providers, or their family may not have health care coverage. Maybe their parents could not take time off work during the day to attend a doctor’s visit, or their community lacks transportation options to get to the nearest health care provider.
Ohio Recognizes and Begins to Address Challenges
However, there are glimmers of hope. In Ohio’s latest round of American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) funds, $9 million dollars were allocated this month in HB 169, for infrastructure to expand school-based health care.
We, as a state, should be working to break down all barriers that prevent children and families from accessing health care and there are significant opportunities to extend care and connect families with care providers. Considering the number of children who are unable to access care, expanding access for these children and their families could make all the difference. What does this look like in practice?
- Increasing the number of school nurses in schools
- Expanding the type of services and providers that are allowed to bill Medicaid,
- Growing partnerships between school districts and community health centers, hospital systems, ADAMH boards, or singular providers.
- Dedicating capital dollars to build a new school-based health center at a school, retrofitting an area already existing that could be used to provide care to students, or even using a medical mobile unit that can drive to several different schools and provide care to students.
Learning from Other States and Making Ohio’s Path Sustainable
While we are very excited about the allocation of $9 million dollars for the expansion and creation of school-based healthcare, it’s important to remember these are one-time funds. Fifteen states, including Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky have taken steps to expand their school-based healthcare systems to allow more students to access school-based services, providing Ohio with a roadmap, it’s time to determine which approach can work best for Ohio’s communities.
The overall goal of increasing students’ access to healthcare services requires any system we build reach and maintain sustainability. That will require thoughtful planning, collaborative partnerships between schools, healthcare providers, and the community, as well as expanded service and billing capabilities to Medicaid and private insurers.
Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio looks forward to working with our policymakers and agency leadership here in Ohio as well as service providers, school leadership, and other stakeholders to expand children’s access to healthcare services through a comprehensive system of school-based health care.