Augusta high school receives grant to provide preventative health services, expand access to behavioral care

Cony Principal Kim Silsby stands in an office Thursday that is currently used for storage that will be eventually used by a doctor when one is added to health suite staff at Cony Middle/High School in Augusta. The Augusta high school recently received a grant from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to establish a more robust school-based health center that will bring doctors and physician assistants into the school. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

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

The Augusta high school recently received a grant from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to establish a more robust school-based health center that will bring doctors, physician’s assistants, or nurse practitioners into the school for 15 hours a week and will extend the amount of time licensed behavioral health specialists are available to students.

Signs in the food court pointing to a health suite are seen Thursday at Cony Middle/High School in Augusta. The Augusta high school recently received a grant from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to establish a more robust school-based health center that will bring doctors and physician assistants into the school. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The $56,000 grant will cover the costs of supplying medical providers from MaineGeneral Health and increase the hours Kennebec Behavioral Health provides services by 30 hours a week, for one year. It will broaden the scope of care already offered by the school’s nurses.

Principal Kim Silsby said she applied for the funding to help lower barriers to accessing preventative and acute care that parents have reported, including a lack of transportation and health insurance.

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

Families will not be charged if their students receive care at the school health center, and students do not need health insurance in order to be seen — but they will need a parent or guardian’s permission.

“It’s exactly what we hoped to have in dealing with social and emotional issues with resources in the building,” Superintendent James Anastasio told the Augusta Public School Board of Education when he announced the grant last Wednesday. “To have more services is important and to have that commitment from MaineGeneral and Kennebec Behavior Health in terms of the social and emotional part is outstanding.”

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

One the cots in the health suite is seen Thursday at Cony Middle/High School in Augusta. The Augusta high school recently received a grant from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to establish a more robust school-based health center that will bring doctors and physician assistants into the school. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

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

“In an area which shouldn’t be underserved, our students just don’t have access to these basic services,” Silsby said in the grant. “Having a School-Based Health Clinic would level the field for our students. Many barriers exist that interfere with learning for many of our students.”

Maine has the highest rate of uninsured people in New England with 5.7% of residents lacking health insurance. At Cony, about 40% of students met the federal guidelines to receive free and reduced meals in 2021, meaning that their families have household incomes between 130 % and 185% federal poverty guidelines. Forty-two students at the high school identify as being homeless.

The health suite at Cony Middle/High School in Augusta is seen Thursday. The first two doors are currently used by nurses and the last one would be used by a doctor or physician assistant when they’re added to staff. The Augusta high school recently received a grant from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to establish a more robust school-based health center that will bring doctors and physician assistants into the school. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Silsby said it is unclear when the services will be implemented in the school, but that Cony will “start as soon as we can” to get the providers inside the building. They will set up in the existing health suite.

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

Cony is the 18th school in Maine to receive funding from the the CDC’s “School Based Health Center Services” grant program, which has been offered for over 20 years, according to the agency’s spokesperson Robert Long. Other schools that received the grant are Readfield-based Regional School Unit 38, Deering and Portland High School, King Middle School, Oxford Hills, among other districts.


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