JPS Health Network officials defended the closure of 15 school health centers last year, saying it allowed for expanded access to medical services through a new partnership with Cook Children’s Health System.
They spoke to Tarrant County commissioners about the closures for the first time on Tuesday. Some commissioners said they first learned of the closures after reading an article published in the Star-Telegram on August 5.
“I just wish I could have come to see you before the recent story hit the papers,” said Dr. Karen Duncan, CEO and President of the hospital. “Because the real title is creating health equity through strong community partnerships.”
To care for the children, JPS referred families to its neighborhood clinics and partnered with Cook Children’s, which operates neighborhood clinics and urgent care clinics throughout the county. Cook Children’s is the primary health care provider for children in Tarrant County, although it operates as a non-profit organization and is not a public entity in the same way as JPS.
Joy Parker, vice president of JPS, said that by referring county children to community clinics run by JPS or Cook Children’s, the partnership could actually provide better care for children.
School clinics were usually staffed by a nurse practitioner and were only open during school hours, she said. Community clinics, known as medical houses, have more staff and a wider range of services, such as dental care and mental health care. And, she said, because these medical homes also have social workers on staff, these locations are better able to help families who may be struggling to find housing, adequate food or medical assistance. other basic needs.
Parker and Duncan also said some campuses are now equipped with telehealth services for children’s behavioral health needs through a statewide network called Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine. The program is not available on all campuses or in all districts. In the Fort Worth School District, the the program is available on 13 of the approximately 140 campuses.
Hospital leaders began discussing the clinics in 2017, Duncan said in an interview Tuesday.
Stewards said they wished they had been informed of the change sooner.
“It took four years for someone to bring it to our attention,” Commissioner Gary Fickes said. “I just wish someone had come to us and said, Hey, here’s what we’re doing and we’ve been working on it and we’ve been working on it since 2018.”
“We hear you,” Duncan said. “We take your suggestions to heart.”
Under the school health center model, JPS would enter into a partnership with a school district. The school district would generally provide the physical space for the clinic, and JPS would provide the staff and medical care for the children, according to copies of the agreements reviewed by the Star-Telegram.
The clinics offered a range of preventive health services, including routine vaccinations, sports physical exams, and treatment for minor injuries and illnesses as well as chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma. The model was designed to serve children who might otherwise go without medical care, especially children without health insurance or underinsured.
JPS first approached officials in the Fort Worth district, where they operated five clinics, in 2018 to say they eventually planned to phase out the program, said Michael Steinert, district assistant superintendent for support services. to students.
“We certainly don’t feel like the rug has been pulled out,” Steinert said. “We understand that needs change, models change, the durability of this one has changed.”
But the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw District said it was not informed of the decision until 2020.
“When the COVID closures occurred in the spring of 2020, JPS made the decision to close the school clinic without consulting the district,” spokeswoman Megan Overman said. “We requested that they leave the clinic open to serve our local families, especially in a global pandemic, but that has not happened.”
Duncan said on Tuesday that disruptions caused by the pandemic, which forced schools and some non-emergency medical providers to close for several months, helped bolster the decision to close school clinics.
“As the children were asked to go home and the schools closed, and we were no longer close to where the children lived, it allowed us to really move forward with plans on which we were already working with Cook’s,” she said. .
Two school health centers are still open. One is near several campuses in the HEB school district, and the other is in the Mansfield School District.
Duncan said there were no plans to close either clinic, as it was determined the two were in a health care wilderness.
Writer Abby Church contributed to this report.