Augusta High School receives grant to provide preventive health services, expand access to behavioral care

Cony Middle and High School Principal Kim Silsby stands Thursday in an office that is currently being used for storage but is planned to eventually be used by a doctor when it is added to the Augusta school’s health package staff. Augusta High School recently received a grant from the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a more robust school health center that will bring doctors and teaching assistants to the school. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Students at Cony High School will soon be able to receive vaccinations, preventive health services and vision screenings while in school.

Augusta High School recently received a grant from the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a more robust school health center that will bring physicians, physician assistants or nurse practitioners into the school for 15 hours a week and expand how long licensed behavioral health professionals are available to students.

Signs in the cafeteria pointing to a health suite are seen Thursday at Cony Middle and High School in Augusta. Augusta High School recently received a grant from the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a more robust school health center that will bring doctors and teaching assistants to the school. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The $56,000 grant will cover the cost of supplying medical providers from MaineGeneral Health and increase the hours Kennebec Behavioral Health provides services 30 hours per week for one year. This will expand the range of care already offered by school nurses.

Principal Kim Silsby said she applied for the funding to help reduce barriers to access to preventive and urgent care that parents reported, including lack of transportation and health insurance.

“Our families are busy and can’t always take their students to health facilities,” Silsby told the Kennebec Journal. “This will help them get the support they need.”

Families won’t be charged if their students receive care at the school health center, and students don’t need health insurance to be seen — but they will need permission from a parent or guardian.

“This is exactly what we were hoping to have in addressing social and emotional resource issues in the building,” Superintendent James Anastasio told the Augusta Board of Education when he announced the grant last Wednesday. “It’s important to have more services and to have this commitment from MaineGeneral and Kennebec Behavior Health on the social and emotional side is outstanding.”

As part of the behavioral health offerings, students may receive group or individual counseling, mental health screenings, or referrals for additional needs.

One of the cots in the health suite is seen Thursday at Coney Middle and High School in Augusta. Augusta High School recently received a grant from the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a more robust school health center that will bring doctors and teaching assistants to the school. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Silsby called behavioral and medical care and attention “essential to student learning and achievement.”

The health suite at Cony Middle and High School in Augusta. The first two doors are currently used by nurses, and the last is planned to be used by a physician or assistant when they are added to the staff. Augusta High School recently received a grant from the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a more robust school health center that will bring doctors and teaching assistants to the school. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“In an area that should not be underserved, our students simply do not have access to these essential services,” Silsby said in the grant. “Having a school health clinic would level the playing field for our students. There are many barriers to learning for many of our students.”

Maine has the highest rate of uninsured people in New England with 5.7% of residents without health insurance. At Cony, about 40 percent of students meet federal guidelines for receiving free and reduced meals in 2021, meaning their families have household incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Forty-two students at the high school self-identified as homeless.

Silsby said it’s unclear when the services will be implemented at the school, but that Cony will “start as soon as we can” to get the providers into the building. They will be located in the existing health package.

Students will be able to visit the clinic after school, during school vacations and on holidays, or may receive referrals to community partners such as MaineGeneral if needed services are not available at the school.

Cony is the 18th Maine school to receive funding from the CDC’s School Health Center Services grant program, which has been offered for more than 20 years, according to agency spokesman Robert Long. Other schools that received the grant are Reedfield-based Regional School Unit 38, Deering and Portland high schools, King Middle School and other districts.


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