Recently, Congress made an unprecedented investment in addressing the needs of children by appropriating $30 million in funding to support school-based health centers (SBHCs) — $25 million more than appropriated the previous year. This critically needed funding will help SBHCs deliver primary care, dental screenings and mental health services to millions of students of lower income families.
One leader who made this possible is U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes. Under his leadership, students — especially those with limited access to health care — will have access to more federally qualified SBHCs and their expanded services.
SBHCs are powerful tools for achieving health equity among children and adolescents who unjustly experience disparities in outcomes simply because of their race, ethnicity or family income. By design, SBHCs are located in schools that serve communities with high concentrations of poverty and act as safety nets to remove barriers, making health care access easy and welcoming for young people, especially those with no other avenue for accessing care. For many, SBHCs are the only places where they can get consistent, coordinated care from a provider who understands their needs, history and personal struggles.
Maryland’s 80-plus SBHCs exist to ensure that all children and adolescents receive exceptional care and don’t fall through the cracks of our country’s broken health care system.
Both before and during the pandemic, SBHCs played a pivotal role in addressing health inequities early in life, leading to better outcomes across the board. SBHCs fill those gaps, and with more of them, we will be able to reach more children and adolescents with essential health care, including vaccines.
We hear from local jurisdictions, educators, families and communities each year of their desire to establish new SBHCs or expand existing ones to provide additional services, including those for behavioral health, oral health and telehealth. At this time, our biggest obstacle is funding. This is due in part to the unique design of SBHCs — to serve all students, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. This is why Congressman Sarbanes’s leadership in expanding funding for SBHCs is so laudable.
On behalf of school-based health centers, we sincerely thank Mr. Sarbanes for his dedication to Maryland’s children, his advocacy and for helping improve results for our students.
Joy Twesigye, Baltimore
The writer is board president of the Maryland Assembly on School-Based Health Care.
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