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As county shifts services to needy areas, school district says campus clinics becoming unattainable

RENDERING COURTESY OF BORA ARCHITECTS - A new design for Lincoln High School, scheduled to be rebuilt starting in 2020, won't include a student health clinic. Instead, space that was set aside for the clinic will be used for CTE instruction. Citing rising healthcare costs and a dwindling availability of providers, Portland Public Schools says the student health clinics it once wanted at most high schools may not be feasible.

Plans for a health clinic at Lincoln High School have been scrapped, while the health center at Grant High School sits empty.

The Portland school board voted Tuesday, Jan. 21 to amend the master plan for Lincoln High School's forthcoming rebuild.

Instead, the new campus will include a space for career technical education (CTE), which is expected to shave $150,000 off the cost of construction.

The Lincoln High master plan included an area for a 1,600-square-foot student health clinic, to provide wrap-around services, in accordance with Portland Public Schools' own education specifications for comprehensive high schools. But as school board members found out Tuesday, the district's own ed specs may be hard to comply with.

School district administrators said it's become harder to find providers who can staff the student health centers, and it's unlikely they'll have better luck at Lincoln.

"Since (approval of the Lincoln master plan) the availability of health care providers in the area has changed," Dan Jung, chief operating officer for PPS, told the school board.

Previously, PPS has relied on health services provided by Multnomah County, but even the county is pulling away, saying it's focusing on areas of the city with the greatest needs. A county-operated health clinic at Grant High School closed in 2017 after nearly 30 years.

"A study of socioeconomic need, clinic visit data and geographic distribution of our 13 school-based health centers has shown that other areas of the county have a greater need for our services," a 2017 notice from Multnomah County read. "We are working to determine where to shift these resources next."

PPS staff said the empty health center at Grant is a signal of what the district is likely to face at other sites, particularly schools on the west side of the city, where demographics tend to skew more affluent.

PPS staff said the county is opting to shift its services further east, where more students are on the Oregon Health Plan and the need is greater.

For some kids, the health clinics play a key role, said Brenda Martinek, the school district's chief of student support services.

"For students on Oregon Health Plan, a lot of them use that as their primary provider," Martinek told the school board.

Furthermore, Martinek said, Lincoln High School has a higher percentage of students who need behavioral and mental health services.

"Lincoln has has a high percentage of students who experience different levels of anxiety, suicide ideation, mental health concerns, depression..." Martinek noted, suggesting mental health supports be available through some other area of the new school campus.

All PPS high schools have a full-time school nurse as well as a school health assistant, but clinics provide a more robust scope of services.

Not everyone was on board with eliminating plans for a health center at Lincoln.

School board member Julia Brim-Edwards recommended creating a space that could be converted to a health clinic, should that become an option later down the road.

She was the lone "no" vote on the Lincoln master plan amendment.

"This is not a decision about whether we want a health provider at Lincoln or whether it's needed," school board director Andrew Scott noted. "We cannot find a provider."

Even without the health clinics, students will still have access to basic health services available through a school nurse's office.

Maxine Latterell, a student representative to the board, said Lincoln students she spoke with didn't know the new campus had plans for a clinic. Latterell said students suggested a clinic might be better suited on the Wilson High School campus.

Lincoln is slated to be rebuilt as a brand new building, with the current school eventually being torn down. It's one of three Portland high schools slated to be modernized or rebuilt with funds from a May 2017 bond measure.

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