Great Lakes Bay Health Centers gearing up to open a health care clinic inside Central High School

Bay City Public Schools and Great Lakes Bay Health Centers have teamed up to open a school-based health care facility within the next year.

The BCC School-Based Health Center will be a place for students to get not only primary care service, but also mental health, dental, and visions checks, says Angelia Williams, Senior Vice President of Great Lakes Bay Health Centers. The concept is not new and has been successful in Saginaw since 2005.

Students will need parental permission to visit the clinic, but no one will be turned away for lack of health insurance. (Graphic courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Health Centers)“There are exam rooms, a lab, a restroom, a conference area and an area for the staff,” she says. “This is just like if you were to go to your private doctor’s office.”

The difference is this office will be just for Bay City Public School students between 5 and 21 years old. Students will need parental permission to visit the clinic.

The Great Lakes Bay Health Centers offers a mobile dental health program to bring dental services to school-aged children in the Great Lakes Bay Region. The new clinic inside Central High School also will offer dental services. (Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Health Centers)Dr. Stephen Bigelow, Superintendent of Bay City Public Schools, says the district has been working on plans for the health care facility for several years, but there were a few things to work out first.

“We had to make sure it was for our students only,” he says. “It’s not possible for us to have it open, it being in a school building, for community members to come in and use at any given time.”

The BCC School-Based Health Center will occupy existing space within the school, Bigelow says.

Eventually, there will be about 1,600 square feet inside Central High School that will be renovated to house the clinic. While the school provides the space, all services provided at the clinic are the responsibility of Great Lakes Bay Health Centers, Williams says.

“While it’s in the school, it’s not really the school operating the clinic – it’s the clinic itself,” Bigelow adds.

Bigelow says the health care center is an exciting opportunity for the district.

“A big part for us is we’re able to provide some mental health care, and that’s huge.”  
Williams agrees that offering mental health services to students will make a difference in their academic successes.

Great Lakes Bay Health Centers provides care throughout the community to some 54,000 patients a year. It operates several centers in Bay County including Bayside at 3884 Monitor Road; Women’s Care Bay City at 3175 W. Professional Drive; Bay City South at 690 S. Trumbull St.; and Washington Elementary School at 1821 McKinley Ave.

The clinic inside Central High School is a continuation of the Great Lakes Bay Health Center locations in Bay County. This one at 3884 Monitor Road offers everything from immunizations to acute care.Just like the rest of the Great Lakes Bay Health Care system, Williams says the school-based program will provide care to any student in need regardless of ability to pay.

“We’re able to bill insurances, however, no student is denied services because of their inability to pay in these programs. We do help families enroll in health insurance as necessary.”

The center will accept Medicaid and health insurances, but she says they will always see a student in need.

Right now, the new facility is in the planning phase.

Williams says Great Lakes Bay Health Centers received a planning grant totaling $75,000 and they’ve been meeting with community stakeholders for the past several months. She says they are working toward putting together both a teen advisory committee and a community advisory committee that will involve parents.

Services available at the 3175 W. Professional Drive center include obstetrics and gynecology; nurse midwifery; infertility; major and minor surgeries; robotic surgery; incontinence; and more. (Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Health Centers)“We have several parents who are interested in being part of the advisory council, so they will serve as ambassadors who can recruit parents and alleviate some of their concerns.”

Williams is ready to address some of the concerns she anticipates hearing.

“These programs are required to have parental permission for any student under age 18,” she says.

“By state law we are not allowed to discuss or refer abortion counseling. We are not allowed to prescribe or dispense any birth control on school property, however, we as licensed medical professionals can educate these students on reproductive education – that means talking about abstinence and keeping themselves safe and protected against sexually transmitted diseases.”

Williams says they also will not dispense medications to students.

“We will not be managing medications for students, so if you have a student who is on medication, we are not allowed to manage those medications. We can prescribe medications, and we can check in with the students and say ‘Hey, did you take your medications?’ ”

A nurse practitioner, licensed behavioral health specialist, and a certified medical assistant as well as ancillary staff will staff the clinic. Students across the district can visit the center for annual well visits, vaccines, and referrals for care.

What they won’t do is compete for or replace the family physician. They also won’t see students without parental permission.

“These programs do not take the place of their private medical physician. We work in collaboration with their pediatrician or their primary care physician, just to let them know what’s going on,” Williams says.

Bigelow says the clinic also will save time for Central High School parents.

“What’s nice, too, within the Central community, is parents aren’t going to have to take time off of work to get their kids into see a doctor or go to a health clinic. It helps with student truancy, it helps with parents not having to take time off from work, it’s just a win-win.”

Williams says actual construction on the BCC School-Based Health Center won’t start right away and she hopes to see it completed by spring of 2024. In the meantime, she’s working toward getting the mental health counseling opened by the end of 2023.

While the clinic focuses on meeting each student’s mental and physical health care needs, it also aims to achieve higher goals.

“One of the ultimate goals is to teach them how to communicate with their parents,” she says.

It’s also about making the students healthier learners.

“Our motto is healthy students make better learners, so having a school-based health center onsite improves that opportunity for every student to become well educated and at the same time become a well-informed health care consumer.”

Bigelow says he is excited to see the clinic finally come to fruition. The district has been working on details since 2017, and despite a pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, plans are moving forward.

“I don’t see any negatives to it,” Bigelow says. “I believe it’s going to be a huge asset for the community.”
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