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St. Helens receives $35K from Oregon Health Authority to conduct assessment

PMG FILE PHOTO - The St. Helens School District will complete a student needs assessment with a focus on St. Helens High School and students mental and physical health needs thanks to grant funding from the Oregon Health Authority. The district will be able to assess its needs and determine what resources, like a second school-based health center at the high school, could be deployed to address those needs. The St. Helens School District was recently selected to receive a $35,000 grant from the Oregon Health Authority to conduct a needs assessment for student health services.

A component of the needs assessment includes using the funds to evaluate site readiness and community needs for school health services, a grant letter from OHA states.

The school district will receive the funds from the Adolescent and School Health Unit within the Oregon Public Health Division.

While the district currently has Sacagawea Health Center, a school-based health care center located near Lewis and Clark Elementary School that offers primary health care and mental health care for students and the general public, district officials have identified additional health needs they hope to address.

In September, St. Helens High School Principal Katy Wagner applied for grant funding with the intent of establishing another health center at the high school.

In the application, high school staff identified the need for a social worker at the school in 2018-19 due to high rates of suicide and suicidal ideation, an increase in the number of students who qualify for McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act programs and a projected continued increase on that front, and a high rate of students who qualify for free and reduced-cost meals. Approximately 312 students, or 36% of the high school population, currently qualify.

While school staff have also contracted with Columbia Community Mental Health to provide on-campus mental health resources two days a week last school year, those staff, as well as the district-hired social worker, are at capacity in their workloads and the district is in need of more resources to help meet students' mental health needs, the application explains.

High school staff also identified the need for greater access to dental care services, substance abuse services and primary care services for unmet physical needs.

A letter of support from the Columbia County Public Health Director Mike Paul touched on similar issues and cited limited access to health care providers that serve low-income students and families in Columbia County as a concern. Students can be limited by transportation or geographic issues when it comes to accessing care as well, he noted.

"Although Saint Helens School District is home to Sacagawea Health Center, located at Lewis & Clark, there are access to care barriers for high school students, such as transportation, convenience, visibility and lack of knowledge. Columbia County suspects the project would demonstrate a great need for onsite care; further, a well-designed school-based health center at Saint Helens High School could also improve our ability to address other public health issues, including suicide and chronic disease," Paul stated in his letter.

The Scappoose School District was also selected to receive funding from the Oregon Health Authority to conduct a health needs assessment for the school district.

Funds must be spent by June 2020. If each district identifies a need through the assessment, they can apply for additional funding in the second phase to help establish health care centers or implement school nursing programs to address established needs.

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