AURORA | After breaking ground over the summer, the Cherry Creek School District’s two new school based health centers it launched in partnership with STRIDE Community Health are up and running.
The clinics, based at Overland High School and Horizon Community Middle School, are designed to provide easy access to holistic health services to students and their families. Along with regular services found at a pediatrician’s office, the sites also offer behavioral health screenings, dental services and substance abuse treatment.
The clinics opened on Feb. 28 and in their first month of operation have already garnered significant community interest, leaders say.
“We typically don’t expect new clinics to be very busy but these have been our busiest new clinics that we’ve ever opened,” said MaryAnn Schiltz, a regional director at STRIDE and pediatric nurse practitioner.
She credited the partnership with Cherry Creek for the success.
STRIDE began working with the district five years ago when it became its partner for offering clinics for school-required immunizations and flu shots. During the pandemic the organization realized it needed to ramp up its community outreach efforts, and began offering first testing and then vaccination clinics at different sites within the district.
“They have been amazing partners, they’re just so enthusiastic with everything we do,” Shiltz said of Cherry Creek.
Creating health centers adjacent to schools was a long-term goal of the district’s, chief health officer Michelle Weinraub said. The district was in talks with STRIDE about creating the clinics pre-pandemic, and after some delays construction during the summer.
Overland was selected as one of the locations due to its proximity to a large number of students. Overland and Prairie Middle School combined have more than 5,000 students and staff on campus, and are nearby to a number of elementary schools as well, Weinraub said.
Horizon Middle was selected because of the centrality of the location and the ability to put the clinic on a major street, Tower Road. But also, that area of the city had been identified as a “healthcare desert,” Shiltz said.
“We realized we could become not just a school-based community health center but (also) a community health center for many of our families in that area,” she said.
The clinics were created to serve primarily students and their families, but are open to anyone who wants to schedule an appointment. The clinics are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and will be open during school breaks and over the summer, Weinraub said.
The district’s main goal with the clinics is to make it as easy as possible for students to access medical care who might not otherwise be able to get it, she said. This way, students can go right across campus to the clinics during school hours. STRIDE was a natural partner because of their work meeting unmet health needs.
“We try to remove as many barriers as possible” so that students can get treatment, Shiltz said.
Each clinic cost about $2 million to construct, Weinraub said. The district paid for construction from its general budget, while the operating costs are paid by STRIDE.
The overwhelming majority of patients the clinics see are on Medicaid, Shiltz said, including about 90% of pediatric patients. The clinics also take private insurance, and for those who are insured the clinics offer a sliding scale of payment based on income, she said.
“No one is refused care,” Weinraub said.
The clinics will offer “pretty much anything you can think of that you would go to a regular provider’s office for,” Weinraub said, and will conduct sports physicals and well-child exams. They also offer basic dental and behavioral health care and vision assessments, and they have the ability to write (but not fill) prescriptions and do bloodwork.
The clinics even offer medication assisted treatment (MAT) for substance abuse issues for minors, Shiltz said.
“I’m the only pediatric provider that does that,” she said. “We have a couple kids that we see for substance abuse and I’m sure that will continue to grow as the fentanyl problem continues to expand.”
Patients that need more intensive medical or behavioral healthcare than STRIDE can offer will be assessed and then referred out for more treatment.
Officials from both STRIDE and the district said they hope to build more clinics in the future.
Neighboring districts are taking note as well. Shiltz said that after hearing about the Cherry Creek clinics, the JeffCo school district reached out to STRIDE and wants to construct one just like it. With the rise in health issues during the pandemic, particularly young adult mental health needs, she said she is glad that schools are taking action.
Along with STRIDE, Weinraub cited the community involvement for the success of the partnership. The clinics had a community based steering committee that informed many of the decisions about how the clinics would be designed and how they would operate.
“It’s owned by the community,” she said. “They feel like it’s theirs because it is theirs.”
To schedule an appointment at one of the clinics, call (303)-7STRIDE.