Student, Staff Health Center to Open at North Beach Jr/Sr High

After two years of planning and construction, North Beach Junior/Senior High School in Ocean Shores now has a primary care clinic for North Beach School District students and staff.

The clinic, which aims to keep kids in school by reducing doctor visits and increasing access to health care, is the first project completed in a group of state grants awarded in 2022 to expand or create school health centers in Washington. to a news release from Grays Harbor County Public Health.

“We are fortunate to be able to begin helping students, faculty and staff this month,” said Mike McNickle, Grays Harbor County Public Health Director.

McNickle said construction work on North Beach began in December, converting the former counseling space into a doctor’s office. This work, which made the space more suitable with test benches and other equipment, faced some permitted delays that pushed the timeline back slightly.

The state Legislature last session finalized funding for the center — a $250,000 start-up grant, $150,000 for operations in year two, plus additional funding for years three and four.

Last August, the district and county selected Dr. Laura Galati, a naturopathic physician and licensed midwife who currently operates her own private practice in Hoquiam, as the clinic’s physician.

The finishing construction allows for a full service clinic, although Galati was already providing some sports physiotherapy

To begin, the clinic will be open one day a week as a primary care center that will provide outpatient services including checkups, sports screenings, immunizations, illness and injury treatment, and behavioral health. This is a higher level of care than the school nurse can usually provide and the center is supposed to work with the school nurse.

It’s also not intended to replace other primary care doctors, McNickle said.

About 60 parents provided consent forms for their students to use the clinic’s services. A login is required for students to use the clinic.

“The goal is to try to keep students where they are,” McNickle said. “Overwhelmingly, the data shows that in schools with school health centers, grades go up, absenteeism goes down, and parents are happier that they don’t have to come pick up their kids and drive 45 minutes to Aberdeen to see a doctor.”

McNickle said the health department is working to create a transportation system for students at Ocean Shores Elementary School and the more distant Pacific Beach Elementary School, but nothing has been finalized. Galati said she is working on a potential telemedicine option.

Future decisions about potentially expanding the clinic into the community will be up to the school board, McNickle said.

Planning for the center was done with a $50,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Health. The county worked with the district and the Quinault Indian Nation to gather health needs from the community and used previous assessments that showed health gaps in rural areas and among tribal students.

Addressing gaps in underserved communities was partly the goal of a 2021 bill from the state legislature that directed the Washington State Department of Health to establish a school health center program office and expand the availability of school health centers in public schools.

“This clinic will go a long way in improving health care access and health outcomes among young people and will hopefully be the first of many,” Katherine Shulock, state health department liaison for Grays Harbor County, said in an email.

The school health center would be the second of its kind in Grays Harbor County, after Elma Elementary District opened a center in January 2022. In the late 1980s, Seattle piloted the first school health centers in Washington, and as of January 2022, more than 65 centers are operating in 25 different school districts in the state.

There are about 3,900 school-based health centers nationwide — a number that has tripled since 1998, said Sandy Lennon, executive director of the Washington School-Based Health Alliance.

“Given the limited access to health care in the community, we are excited that the North Beach SBHC will improve access to care for students, removing barriers to their health and learning,” Lennon said in an email.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or clayton.franke@thedailyworld.com.

The new School-Based Health Center at North Beach Junior/Senior High School offers several private exam rooms.  (Courtesy of Leigh Rowley/Grays Harbor County Public Health)

The new School-Based Health Center at North Beach Junior/Senior High School offers several private exam rooms. (Courtesy of Leigh Rowley/Grays Harbor County Public Health)

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