16:50 PM

School-based clinic brings care to Columbia Falls students

By Allison Linville

In 2010, the idea was pitched to create a school-based health clinic in Columbia Falls. “The thought was that we could reduce the logistics around going to the doctor to make healthcare more accessible for many students,” says Brittany Coburn, Family Nurse Practitioner and coordinator for the Columbia Falls School Based Health Clinic.

Now, the clinic provides healthcare access for all students who may need primary care. The School Based Health Clinic (SBHC) currently operates at Columbia Falls High School, and offers care for acute and chronic conditions. Coburn defines those conditions for students and parents often. “Acute care is for an urgent situation like illness or pain. Chronic care addresses an ongoing condition like anxiety, asthma, allergies, and painful periods for women, or behavioral health issues,” explains Coburn. “The School Based Health Clinic offers care for these concerns and many more. We try to cover any issue students may have, in addition to educating students about physical and behavioral health and wellness from a preventative care standpoint.”

“The goal of the School Based Health Clinic is to increase access to healthcare and reduce the amount of work lost for a parent to attend appointments,” states Coburn. By establishing the clinic at the high school, care providers also collaborated with school administrators to reduce student absenteeism due to healthcare appointments or issues.

The clinic has full prescribing authority, and limited lab support with additional lab technology and x-rays available at the nearby North Valley Professional Center. There is a full healthcare team, including Coburn, FNP, Dan Masar, FNP, Lisa Crane, RN, and Lil McGuinness, RN, in addition to a behavioral health counselor, Kyle Stansbury, LCSW, and the school nurse, Cathy Dragonfly. This patient care team follows the North Valley Hospital mission of caring for the whole person, including mind, body, and spirit, and the clinic is proud to offer this same high level of care to high school students through the School Based Health Clinic.

“I call the parents and talk with them over the phone about the visit and the needs of the student, so they are still very involved in the process,” says Coburn. “We –the clinic staff—want to teach families about wellness, preventative care, and maintaining a state of health, and we also just want to be there to help when the students are hurt or sick.” Also, Coburn explained that teachers and faculty can be seen in the clinic as well to reduce the amount of time spent getting to healthcare appointments. The School Based Health Clinic works with many primary care providers in the valley and is focused solely on providing access to students, not bringing in more patients. Clinic providers constantly collaborate with other primary care providers to send important information and keep open lines of communication.

Coburn explained that there were years of work and a focused team that made the clinic a reality to help students at Columbia Falls High School. “The previous superintendent worked with North Valley Hospital’s Senior Director of Provider and Clinic Services, Rhonda Tallman, and the Columbia Falls School Nurse Cathy Dragonfly, and they made this clinic happen. It took an incredible amount of work, and then I joined in two years ago to help coordinate the program.” She continued that without the continued focus on the program as a priority and strong support from school administrators, it wouldn’t have happened.

“We don’t turn anyone away here,” Coburn explained. “We help students get enrolled with insurance if they need to, and we make it work for anyone to be seen.” Coburn is glad the program can help local kids. She explains, “There is certainly a student population that we are able to reach through the school that maybe wouldn’t have any access to care otherwise.”

Coburn seems to be made for this position, as her passion for working with students and helping to expand the clinic to better serve the Columbia Falls area is apparent as she speaks about the program. She says, “I love working with high school students – they are a great population. It’s wonderful to see how many kids we can help by being in the school. Making healthcare accessible is one of the best things we can do for the local population.”

The School Based Health Clinic is a service provided by the North Valley Professional Center and North Valley Hospital.

First published in 406 Woman magazine, August-September 2017