More than $1 million in federal grants will help three Colorado school districts expand or improve their school-based health services in the coming year.

The Durango High School Health Clinic (Photo courtesy of Julie Snider-Popp)

Thomas Jefferson High School in southeast Denver, Durango High School and four school-based clinics in Adams 14 will benefit from the awards, which were announced in December. The grants are part of a $200 million program created by the Affordable Care Act to make capital improvements at school-based health clinics across the country.

The recent announcement marked the third and last round of awards, granting $80 million to 197 districts or community agencies for new clinics, renovations or equipment. The three Colorado awards will allow the Denver and Durango districts to serve more students and allow the Adams 14 school clinics to update their equipment and track patient data more effectively.

Deborah Costin, executive director of the Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care, said the opportunity to get funding for capital projects at school-based clinics is “very rare.”

“There’s never been a lot of construction funding available,” she said.

Many school-based clinics operate in converted classrooms with makeshift walls or dividers.

“They’re pretty meager facilities,” Costin said. “This money has allowed the construction of more sophisticated facilities.”

All told, 11 awards were made to Colorado districts or agencies over the three rounds of the grant program, which began in 2010.

New construction in Denver

Of the recent awards, $500,000 will go to Denver Health, which partners with Denver Public Schools on school-based clinics, to pay for construction of a new clinic at Thomas Jefferson H.S. The clinic will serve about 700 students per year starting in August 2014. The clinic will have two exam rooms and office space for a mental health provider, a reproductive health counselor and an insurance outreach coordinator.

Dr. Steve Federico, director of school and community programs at Denver Health, said the new clinic will provide comprehensive primary care, including sports physicals, preventive care, vaccinations, mental health services and care for chronic conditions, such as asthma.

Once the clinic is open at Thomas Jefferson, there will be school-based health services available to all Denver Public School students in the southeast portion of the district, said Federico. An earlier $500,000 grant in the first round of the Affordable Care Act program funded construction of a school health clinic at Place Bridge Academy, which serves students at several schools in Southeast Denver.

Ultimately, Federico said the goal is for all DPS students to have access to school-based health services, either at the school they attend or a nearby school.

Increasing access in Durango

In Durango School District 9-R, the $485,000 capital grant will fund the construction of two additional exam rooms and a new external entrance at the existing health clinic at Durango High School. Currently, the 1,000-square-foot clinic has one exam room and some less private curtained exam areas.

In addition, patients must use the main school entrance to access the clinic, requiring them to check in at the main desk, get a visitors badge and walk through school hallways to the clinic. Julie Snider-Popp, district spokeswoman, said these steps create “a little bit of a barrier” to prospective patients, some of whom don’t attend Durango High.

The larger facility and new entrance will make it “more of a true walk-in clinic,” Snider-Popp said.

With the completion of the 2,000-square-foot expansion, the district will extend school-based health services to any student in La Plata County, including those in the Bayfield and Ignacio school districts as well as those who attend private or charter schools. Clinic staff expect to see patient numbers grow from the current 580 per year to 750 after the renovated clinic opens at the start of the 2013-14 school year.

Eliminating paper files in Commerce City

In Adams 14, a $37,000 grant was awarded to Community Health Services, which runs the school clinics at Adams City Middle, Kearny Middle, Adams City High and Lester Arnold High, as well as two community clinics. The money will buy laptop computers, scanners and printers to convert paper patient files at all six clinics to electronic medical records.

“It’s going to be great for us,” said Amber Picinic, director of finance for Community Health Services.

Picinic said her agency has been seeking funds for the conversion to electronic medical records for at least three years. Currently, patient files of middle school students moving up to high school must be physically moved to the clinic at their new school. In addition, during summer and holiday breaks, the paper files are not always easily accessible if a student is being seen at one of the community health clinics.

Electronic patient files will also help clinic staff better track data on patient populations with chronic conditions such as asthma and obesity. Currently, color-coded paper files are the only way to distinguish which patients fall into these categories but staff members don’t have the time to pull all the files and examine them for trends.

Some of the grant funds will also be used to buy refrigeration equipment for vaccine storage, and a spirometer, which assesses lung function in asthma patients.