A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Improve access, strengthen ties to health care with school-based health centers


By O’dell Moreno Owens, Tony Cox and Sally Jordan

Health and education go hand in hand. If children are bothered by tooth decay, poor vision or untreated asthma, they won’t be able to reach their full potential in the classroom.

Tony Cox

One way to strengthen the ties between education and health is through school-based health centers. As the name implies, school-based health centers are health centers providing primary care within school buildings. They offer a range of health services to address the physical and emotional needs of the students, staff and community members.

The 2019 Kentucky Health Issues Poll found that adults in the commonwealth support schools taking a more active role in helping families access health services. Nearly 8 in 10 Kentucky adults (79%) favor this concept—and support has been steady since 2009. For more details about the survey, click here.

O’dell Owens

For more than 20 years, Interact for Health has funded school-based health services in the 20-county region that it serves. Today, some 50,000 students in Greater Cincinnati have access to 38 school-based health centers.

A new partnership with the Bracken County School System and the Bracken County Health Department is exploring how school-based health services may be brought to Brooksville, Kentucky. In 2019, Interact for Health awarded a planning grant to allow partners in the county to determine community needs, hours/days for services and the types of services that could be offered via a school-based health center. The ultimate goal of the planning would be to open a center in Brooksville to provide medical and dental services.

Sally Jordan

HealthPoint Family Care operates 21 school-based health centers in Northern and Central Kentucky in five districts. In 2019, the school-based centers served 2,339 children for medical services and 1,609 for dental services.

School-based health centers in Kentucky are also now more sustainable, thanks to a 2019 change in the state’s Medicaid regulations which expanded coverage for school-based services.

It’s important to note that school-based health centers aren’t just for students. Centers can be built in a way to allow school employees, families, and others to use them, too. The centers can serve as a health hub for the whole community. School-based health centers can offer communities an added resource for health care. When students can be treated without leaving school, they can quickly return to the classroom to continue learning, and parents don’t need to take time off work or arrange transportation to doctor’s appointments.

In short, school-based health centers can improve access to health care for the people who need it most. To learn more, visit this website.

O’dell Moreno Owens, MD, MPH, is President and CEO, Interact for Health; Tony Cox is Director, Bracken County Health Department; Sally Jordan, is Chief Executive Officer, HealthPoint Family Care.


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