Penobscot Community Health Center will expand its in-school health care clinic in Bangor High School to offer telehealth appointments to all Bangor students in the coming academic year.
The addition of telehealth appointments will expand the resource to all Bangor students, rather than just high school students. The move comes after the in-school clinic, which opened in January, saw about 170 appointments in its first six months, many of which were for mental health appointments.
Donna Neste, executive division director who oversees Penobscot Community Health Center’s school-based health care, said the in-school clinic was established to “break down some typical barriers to access to health care in the community.”
“From its inception, part of this project has been around improving access to the most vulnerable populations in our community,” Neste said. “There can be multiple barriers to accessing medical care. Embedding the resources in a school setting means kids are already there.”
Services offered in Bangor High School’s clinic include routine exams and immunizations, treatment for common illnesses and sports injuries and mental health care for anxiety, depression and stress management. Students can also receive care in school if they’re absent, the school website states.
The clinic has one general health clinician, which was shared with Brewer schools for its initial months, and one full-time mental health practitioner. In September, Bangor will have its own full-time health care practitioner, which will further expand how many students the clinic can serve, Neste said.
Parents can register their student to receive health care at the in-school clinic, even if they have a primary care provider, according to the school website. Students also don’t need to be a Penobscot Community Health Center patient to enroll.
Neste said the school clinic operates like any other Penobscot Community Health Center facility. The clinic accepts all insurances, including MaineCare, but students don’t need to be insured to receive care, according to spokesperson Kate Carlisle. The agency has a sliding-scale fee structure for those who are uninsured, and nobody is turned away if they cannot pay.
Neste said 93 Bangor High School students have enrolled in the clinic since January.
“The response has been remarkable, and we’re very pleased that students and their families know the resource is available,” Neste said.
Bangor’s clinic was modeled after a similar service in Brewer, which offers students on-site medical and dental care, in addition to mental health services.
Making mental health support more readily available to school-aged children has become increasingly important, Neste said, because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on students’ overall wellbeing.
“The entire intent is to add additional support to the services that already exist in the school to address some concerns around mental and physical health,” Neste said. “The pandemic has been difficult for all of us. We’ve heard about the impact on school-aged children who have had their lives impacted dramatically by COVID.”
A 2021 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 37 percent of high school students experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some 44 percent of students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness and nearly 20 percent seriously considered suicide.
Bangor Superintendent James Tager said embedding a clinic in the school reduces the amount of class time students might otherwise miss to receive medical care. It also saves parents from taking time out of their day to take their children to appointments.
“It’s convenient and it’s necessary,” Tager said. “We want students in school with us.”
Students are still being seen for mental and physical health appointments in the in-school clinic two days per week over the summer, Tager said.