In some areas of Ohio, parents may need to drive an hour and a half to get their children to see a medical specialist or to get medical care for their children, says Lesley Scott-Charlton, a Medicaid health systems administrator at the Ohio Department of Medicaid. “We so often think of food deserts, but we don’t think of medical deserts,” she says. Unfortunately many students across the country, including in Ohio, don’t have easy access to health services.
The state of Ohio has been working on expanding access to health services by bringing needed health services to schools. Research shows that school-based health services, both physical and mental, are critical to supporting student health and wellness. Increasing access to school health services is a key strategy for improving children’s access to healthcare and the quality of care they receive.
Ohio is one of the 15 state teams that participate in the Healthy Students, Promising Futures Learning Collaborative, co-convened by Healthy Schools Campaign and Trust for America’s Health. The Collaborative, launched in July 2016, aims to support increased access to school health services and explore ways those services can be supported through Medicaid reimbursement. State teams include representatives from the state education agency, state Medicaid agency, school districts, and state and local advocates.
Because the Collaborative brings together state teams from across the country, members learn what has and hasn’t worked in other states and can bring that knowledge back to their home states. “The Collaborative provides us with an opportunity to be very knowledgeable about how we can approach things,” says Scott-Charlton. “It’s given us a huge foundation upon which to grow from as we’re learning from others.”
In concert with the work of the Learning Collaborative, a number of state agencies have created a cross-sector partnership and are working toward a more integrated approach to meeting student health needs through school-based health services. This partnership includes leaders from Ohio’s Governor’s Office of Health Transformation, the Ohio Department of Education, the Ohio Department of Medicaid, the Ohio Department of Health, and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
This partnership launched a School-Based Health Care Toolkit, which provides a set of resources for schools and communities as they work together to address common health issues and keep students in class and learning. “We pulled together a wealth of knowledge,” says Scott-Charlton “The toolkit is really a key to moving Ohio forward.”
The toolkit gives tactical advice and resources to excite schools and health care providers about school-based health care. It includes resources on how to do student specific needs assessments; information on how to engage families, school staff and the broader community in preparation for this work; guidance on how to develop a sustainable model; information on how to measure success; and guidance on how to make the case for implementing a school health care program.
In Ohio, all of this work stems from the state’s overall commitment to academic achievement. In fact, the state’s strategic plan for education, which will guide its ESSA implementation, features the toolkit as a key tool for identifying, disseminating and supporting effective school practices to support the whole child.
The state’s multi-pronged approach includes incentivizing providers to meet certain goals, providing assistance directly to schools across the state and sharing knowledge and lesson learned from schools and districts that have set up school-based health services. Mark Smith, a Collaborative member and the program coordinator for Medicaid in Schools at the Ohio Department of Education, see this as a great way to break down silos that make it hard for health and education to work together. “The target is to improve the lives of the students in the state of Ohio,” he says. “I want people on the education and healthcare side to realize they were shooting at the same target, just from different perspectives.”
While Ohio is just beginning these efforts, the state has received some encouraging feedback about how providing health services has improved academic outcomes. In one school district, 20 percent of children that the district initially thought needed special education resources just needed glasses.
We commend Ohio for their leadership on school based health care and look forward to our continued work with the Ohio state team through the Learning Collaborative.