School-based health centers in Ypsilanti area remove barriers to good health

The Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools (RAHS) clinics embedded in Ypsilanti Community Schools and Lincoln Consolidated Schools see more than 3,000 patients per year.
The Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools (RAHS) clinics embedded in Ypsilanti Community Schools and Lincoln Consolidated Schools see more than 3,000 patients and provide as many as 14,000 visits per year, but many in the greater Ypsilanti area are not familiar with RAHS and its mission.

"It's an interesting resource that has been involved in the community for a long time, but people don't seem to know about it," says Lisa Anderson, a social work outreach therapist with RAHS.

RAHS' school-based health centers provide a full range of primary and preventive healthcare services. The centers' services range from immunizations to sports physicals, as well as vision, dental, and mental health services, for young people ages 5 to 21, regardless of whether they are students in the district where each center is located. Each health center is staffed by a physician, nurse practitioner, clinical social worker, registered dietitian, and medical assistant.

"We provide fully comprehensive primary care services, from sick visits to chronic care management for conditions like diabetes, and physicals," says RAHS Director Anginique Spence. "We also provide mental health services through our social workers, from psychotherapy to medical management, and the [registered dietitian] provides nutrition therapy on site."
RAHS Director Anginique Spence.
The core mission behind the school-based health center model is to remove barriers and help communities achieve good health. Ypsilanti Community Schools Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross calls the RAHS clinics in her district "really essential" and says they remove barriers related to transportation and ease of scheduling follow-up visits.

"The RAHS clinics make it easy for the community to access immediate services in a timely manner, and close to their homes," Zachery-Ross says. "Often, people have anxieties about going to a doctor's office and trying to find their way around a medical facility, but this offers them a place they're already familiar with."

Fees and insurance are no barrier either.

"Our grant funding means we have the ability to not charge any out-of-pocket costs to participants," Anderson says. "We'll bill insurance if they have it and recoup what we can, but deductibles and co-pays are written off, so there are no barriers to medical or mental health services." 

The school-based health center organization was created in 1992 as a collaboration between the Ann Arbor Public Schools and the Ann Arbor Youth Services Task Force. The University of Michigan Health System (now Michigan Medicine) and St. Joseph Mercy Health Systems joined the collaboration in 1996. The organization expanded to include the Ypsilanti Public Schools in 1998 and took on its current name, RAHS, in 2000. Some restructuring took place in the following years and Lincoln Consolidated Schools were added to the collaboration in 2012. 

RAHS also expanded into the Flint area in 2016, and 2018 saw the addition of mobile dental and vision services in cooperation with Mott Children's Health Center and the Kellogg Eye Center. More recently, grant funding allowed RAHS to introduce three new RAHS Behavioral Health Hubs, one each in Flint, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor, and a partnership with Michigan Medicine MedSport opened a MedSport health center in Ypsilanti in late 2019.

While most centers across all of RAHS' partner school districts offer the same services, some partnerships are unique at Ypsilanti Community Schools. For example, a community eye clinic is available at Ypsilanti Community High School in partnership with the University of Michigan's Kellogg Eye Center.

"In most of our health centers a space has been donated, usually a classroom we convert to a health center," Spence says. "We received funding to fully renovate the space at Ypsilanti High School, and check-in and the exam rooms are exactly the same thing you see when you walk into any health center."
Stephen Park and Nicole Speck at the RAHS clinic at Ypsilanti Community High School.
Zachery-Ross says having vision and hearing screenings right in the school building is "invaluable." 

"When students are struggling in class, we wonder if there's a vision issue or a hearing issue. We want to rule those things out," she says. "Most schools have opportunities for screenings, but they give parents the information and hope they have insurance for a comprehensive eye exam. With Kellogg Eye Center, if the screening indicates a full eye exam is needed, they can schedule that right in the high school, and if they need glasses, they're offered at no cost to the student's family."

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut many facilities down, RAHS also partnered with the MedSport program to provide athletic training and physical therapy for school athletes. 

COVID-19 forced RAHS clinics in the Ypsilanti area to close, though virtual visits helped close some of the gaps in service. The pandemic also opened up a new opportunity for RAHS' mobile services.

"We have a mobile unit and we received funding to use it in Genesee County," Spence says. "When the COVID crisis came about, we asked the funder for permission to provide services in both counties in a time when we needed to bring services to patients."

On Feb. 1, the RAHS clinics in the Ypsilanti area reopened with precautions in place, and Spence says, "We're doing great."

"We're using Michigan Medicine and CDC protocols as relates to social distancing and safety concerns," Spence says. "We want to make sure people feel secure and safe coming in for physicals or immunizations. That's the biggest message I want to get out: that health centers are safe to return to."

Zachery-Ross says that beyond removing barriers to preventive care, RAHS clinics also provide educational resources for both children and their families.

"This collaboration with RAHS is so beneficial to all our school community," Zachery-Ross says. "The RAHS medical staff work hand-in-hand with our building administrators to help ensure we are providing a healthy school community and are educating students about maintaining their own healthy lifestyle."

More information about RAHS and its clinics in Michigan schools is available here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe except photo of Anginique Spence courtesy of RAHS.
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