Columbia Health Services is expanding its Student Based Health Center (SBHC) program to include Clatskanie School District.
According to Columbia Health Services (CHS) Director Sherrie Ford, the school district allocated a portion of its funds to the center in an effort to increase the scope of services.
“The school district has asked us to provide more mental health services than have been provided in the past. But we didn’t require from them a report as to why they think that’s necessary,” Ford said.
CHS is a non-profit in the public health sector and operates SBHCs in various schools across Columbia County, according to its website.
Ford said that the clinics have been a presence in schools across Columbia County since 2009, and CHS has previously partnered with Columbia County Mental Health (CCMH), and Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization to discuss ways to bring affordable mental health resources to students.
The center specializes in psychiatric care for both common and uncommon mental health disorders seen among adolescents and youth.
“We have licensed mental health professionals who are working in the school-based health centers to provide care within their scope, which may mean depression and anxiety, relationship issues, maybe thoughts of suicide or self-harm. Stressors, whether common or otherwise, challenges with nutrition-related behaviors like eating disorders,” she said. “And then there are also behavioral things. If a classroom teacher or school counselor is noticing some behavioral issues or concerns, they may engage with the family, and recommend the school-based health centers mental health provider.”
Data from Oregon Health Authority (OHA) shows that statewide, SBHC utilization rose 24% from 2014-15 to 2017-18, with almost one in five children identifying SBHC as their primary health resource as of 2018.
Oregon law states that teens ages 14 and older can receive mental health treatment without parental consent, Ford said.
“School-based health centers are really meant to be a place for patients to invite a clinician into their team of people who can help them. We are really focused on the student’s goals, partnered with our best medical practice, per all of the providers’ licenses,” she said. “What we want to communicate to families is that we’re here for you. If you’re not sure if our services are the right match for you, we just encourage folks to call and ask how we can support your family.”
Amber Bathon, a licensed professional counselor, provides services through SBHC to kids within Clatskanie School District.
She said that people are reluctant to seek help with their mental health, drawing from her 20 years of experience in the mental health field.
“I think we’re so new in the process that we haven’t had a lot of experience with that yet. So, we’re really just getting that up and going,” Bathon said. “But I can say in my experience as a mental health therapist, that that is absolutely true. There’s still a stigma around receiving services. And part of bringing us into the school-based health centers and into the school communities is to help break down some of those walls.”
Funding comes from the Oregon Health Authorities’ (OHA) Mental Health Expansion Grant, Ford said, and that funding is for school-based health centers to add mental health care that may not be funded otherwise. Ford said this grant allows the center to fill in the gaps where a patients’ insurance doesn’t cover the whole cost of care, making it so no family has to pay out-of-pocket expenses.
The center is located at 471 SW Bel Air Drive on the Clatskanie Middle/High School Campus. The mental health services are available to students from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. The center can be reached at 503-728-5181.
Students are asked to bring proof of health insurance and fill out forms. More information about health insurance and required forms is available online at columbia-health.org.