New school-based health centers will open alongside the two St. Mary’s public school buildings when all students have the option to return in March, first providing health services and COVID-19 testing to students with a long-term goal of providing primary care to community members as well.
The opening phase of the school health centers, which are based in trailers at Spring Ridge and Margaret Brent middle schools, will initially provide behavioral health and school nursing services, as well as COVID-19 testing to students during school hours, St. Mary’s Health Officer Dr. Meena Brewster said last week.
The school health centers were established through the equity task force, a partnership between the St. Mary’s County Health Department, board of education and sheriff’s office, that was established in June. The physical facilities were funded with CARES Act federal grant money.
“There’s been great interest in St. Mary’s County, in doing it,” Brewster said, referring to the health centers, which have been established in some urban counties and Maryland’s eastern shore, but do not exist in Southern Maryland. The COVID-19 pandemic and establishment of the county’s equity task force was a “great opportunity to step in” and get the centers started.
COVID-19 testing for students, and later on community members, at the sites will also make tests more accessible to those areas, which are distant from current testing sites in Lexington Park and Leonardtown, Brewster said.
The sites will utilize COVID-19 tests which Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced last Thursday would be delivered to reopening school systems, St. Mary’s Superintendent Scott Smith said.
Officials hope to include more comprehensive health care services at the facilities toward the late spring, and go through the process to be officially recognized by the state as school based health centers, which means they would have more funding and the ability to bring in staff.
In the long run, school and health officials hope the health centers will be able to provide primary care to non-students during after-school hours.
Community members would likely be charged for primary care on a sliding scale, allowing free or reduced cost care for some, Brewster said. The centers would still bill for services which are billable.
“We want to look at long-term sustainability,” Brewster said. “We want to set it up in a way that’s efficient.”
New centers at other schools will also be considered during renovations and other projects, “funding permitting,” Smith said.
At the county detention center in Leonardtown, another project from the collaboration is almost complete.
The outside of the community corrections center, which will provide those accused or convicted of non-violent crimes with behavioral health treatment, is “90% complete,” and the inside part is just waiting on some furniture, Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) said last week.
“Once the furniture’s in, we’re ready to go,” he said.
The center will connect those involved in the criminal justice system with mental health and substance use treatment as a deterrent to crime, officials said in September, when the center was unveiled.