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Dental exam could be just another school test under new proposal

The days when students went to school and only learned “the three Rs” (reading, writing and arithmetic) are long gone, with kids today taught a variety of additional subjects needed to successfully navigate daily life.

And a proposal that could add a vision test, teeth cleaning, flu shot or a number of other health care options to the services schools offer their students took its first step Wednesday.

Sponsored by Rep. Steve Sandell (DFL-Woodbury), HF3114 would allow a fledging network of school-based health centers to further expand throughout the state. It would require the Department of Health to contract with a non-profit organization to support comprehensive school-based health centers and to issue grants to help existing centers or establish new ones.

The bill, which was approved on a 7-4 party-line vote by the House Preventive Health Policy Division, would appropriate $1.4 million in fiscal year 2023 from the General Fund for that work. It now moves to the House Health Finance and Policy Committee. There is no Senate companion.

Sandell said healthy kids are better students, attend school more often, graduate more frequently, are more likely to be employed while in school and self-sufficient after high school and, in general, have a brighter future.

“HF3114 is about the health and well-being of our children and their young families,” Sandell said. “There are very few successful and engaged students who are not healthy.”

He said there are currently 27 health centers at schools around the state, but growing that number has been “very difficult.” The bill would help strengthen existing centers and provide the opportunity for other school districts to offer the same services.

Karen Fogg, a maternal and child health section manager at the Health Department, said school-based health centers are a nationally recognized delivery model that are located in or near a school and offer comprehensive medical care to all students. She said they provide better access to care, better health outcomes and improve academic achievements and attendance, while decreasing health care costs and dropout rates.

“Services are provided to students irrespective of their ability to pay, making this an efficient and cost-effective way to address health inequities,” Fogg said. “These health centers are truly part of the community.”

A report by the HealthPartners Institute in January 2020 that asked 156 educators in four Twin Cities’ school districts (Brooklyn Park, Burnsville, Richfield and St. Louis Park) about their experiences with school-based health centers found that 86% think the centers positively impact the students’ engagement in their own health care and 62% thought they had a positive impact on school culture.

But Republicans questioned whether school-based health centers are the best way to allocate money. Rep. Susan Akland (R-St. Peter) asked if funds would be better spent making sure each school has a nurse and social worker.

And Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe) raised concerns about school health workers performing medical procedures or providing referrals without parents’ knowledge.

“The concern is that health care initiatives could be done to the child without the parents’ notification and yet the parent is still responsible financially,” Gruenhagen said.

He was told the clinics are required to seek parental permission in most circumstances, and that participation is voluntary. Schools that do not want the centers, and students who do not want to use them, are free to keep doing what they have been doing.

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