Montana’s first-ever school-based health clinic at Lowell Elementary School in Missoula has cleared all the hurdles and is finally moving forward.
Delayed by nearly a year, construction workers are set to begin the project in coming days and the clinic is expected to see its first patients by the end of the school year, said Kim Mansch, executive director of Partnership Health Center.
While fairly common in urban areas across the country, Lowell’s health clinic will be a pilot program in Montana, made possible by a $500,000 federal grant.
The clinic will be housed in a newly built 2,800-square-foot, one-story building near the school’s garden and will serve the school’s 290-some students and their immediate family members, Mansch explained.
The clinic will be open 12 months a year and will be staffed by a physician, a nurse, a dentist, a dental assistant and a behavioral health specialist, whose salaries will be paid by Partnership Health Center.
“We are really excited about this and we are glad we are breaking ground,” said Brian Bessette, Lowell principal. “We are looking forward to having a family clinic for the school.”
Lowell was chosen as the site for the clinic because of the high number of low-income children and families it serves.
Each year, 75 percent to 80 percent of its students receive free and reduced school meals, and 20 percent to 25 percent of the school’s students qualify as homeless.
“The issues of poverty are pretty hidden, but the statistics were pretty shocking to me,” Mansch said.
To clarify, she said, “homeless” is roughly defined as children whose families are living in hotels, in vehicles, or who don’t have a steady place to call home and move from home to home of other family members or friends.
Deciding who would be served by the clinic was one of the reasons for the project’s delay, Bessette said.
“Our first concern was we didn’t want a public walk-up clinic for security reasons,” Bessette said. “Beyond that, we were eager to have this clinic.”
Design plans for the clinic show a building with a hip roof and covered porch, just like many of the 1930s- and ’40s-era homes that define the school’s Westside neighborhood.
Not only will the facility have a homey, welcoming feel, its close proximity to school will make it easier for parents to get convenient medical and wellness care.
“We have some families that are doing their best, but it can be really hard to get to doctor and dental appointments,” Bessette said. “We know early prevention and instilling good habits are important for children’s health.”
Studies with other school-based clinics have shown that children at those schools have increased attendance and there is a decrease in absenteeism, Mansch said.
As construction gets under way on the clinic, other minor details still need to be hammered out, such the clinic’s hours of operation and how to handle student permission slips when they go back and forth between the school and the clinic.
Nevertheless, those concerns are well worth the final payoff, Bessette said.
Mansch said she is eager to see the project finally come to full bloom.
A soft opening is expected sometime in late spring, and the clinic is expected to be fully functioning throughout the summer, with a grand opening planned for the fall.
“We are really looking forward to delivering the services to the children of Lowell and their families,” Mansch said. “We are really excited about this, and right now we couldn’t be happier.
“We are breaking ground and moving forward.”
Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.