Registered nurse Krista Weaver and her nephew Les Weaver demonstrate how students receive medical care at Haysville USD 261’s school-based health clinic. (Photo illustration by Fernando Salazar/The Beacon)
Krista Weaver, an advanced practice registered nurse, and her nephew Les Weaver demonstrate how students receive medical care at Haysville USD 261’s school-based health clinic. (Photo illustration by Fernando Salazar/The Beacon)

Editor’s note: We updated this story on Dec. 8 to clarify that Krista Weaver is an advanced practice registered nurse. On Dec. 9, the story was updated to clarify that KU Wichita Pediatrics operates the school-based clinics.

There’s no telling who or what Krista Weaver will see every day in her classroom-turned-clinic in Haysville USD 261’s administrative center.

Some days, the advanced practice registered nurse keeps busy getting her patients up-to-date on their immunizations. Other days, she’s seeing children for mental health, developmental or behavioral issues.

Weaver — though she practices nursing at a school — is not a school nurse. She’s a health-care provider who sees patients who happen to be students. 

Weaver’s patients see her at Haysville USD 261’s school-based health clinic. She works alongside school nurses to provide a higher tier of health care for students in the district.

“We can do everything a doctor’s office could do,” Weaver said.

The Haysville clinic, as well as a sister clinic at Valley Center High School, are part of a partnership with KU Wichita Pediatrics to test the concept of bringing health care right to students at school-based health clinics. 

“Being right here, in a school where parents are already at least somewhat familiar with our location and staff — we think that will help with accessibility, with us being the connector between the parent, school and doctor’s office,” said Linda Long, the Haysville USD 261 clinic coordinator.

And while both clinics are just months old, school and health officials said that improving access to health care for students can boost their academic outcomes and mean fewer days of classes missed for medical appointments.

School-based health clinics in Wichita area

Health clinics inside schools aren’t a new concept, said Dr. Kari Harris, program director for school-based health at KU Wichita Pediatrics

Similar programs have existed for decades in the U.S. Research has shown that implementing health centers in schools:

  • Makes health care more accessible to hard-to-reach populations.
  • Decreases absenteeism and tardiness.
  • Increases students’ willingness to seek mental health care. 

KU Wichita Pediatrics began working with the Kansas Maternal Child Health Council in 2016 to develop a guide implementing these kinds of health service programs in the state’s school districts.

The groups recommended starting a pilot in Valley Center USD 262. Funding roadblocks, as well as finding a medical sponsor for the clinic, put the effort on the back burner for a few years.

Then COVID-19 overwhelmed health-care providers, and children were going without care for routine and urgent medical needs, so the group returned to the idea, Harris said.

The Valley Center Board of Education approved the pilot program in December 2020, and in February, the first school-based health clinic opened at Valley Center High School. Haysville opened its own school-based clinic at the district’s administrative building, next to Freeman Elementary, in October.

Valley Center USD 262’s school-based health clinic will likely expand its service in spring 2022. (Alex Unruh/The Beacon)

How the school clinics work

While both clinics are run by KU Wichita Pediatrics, some school district dollars and federal COVID-19 relief funding help support the programs.

The school clinics function like other urgent-care clinics in that students see a nurse practitioner who is working under the supervision of a pediatrician. The nurse practitioners can make basic diagnoses, treat basic medical issues and issue some prescriptions, except narcotics and other controlled substances.

At Haysville, the clinic operates under a comprehensive care model. Although the clinic doesn’t offer full psychiatric care, Weaver can help patients manage mental health conditions or refer them to other providers. In the future, the clinic could expand services to process laboratory tests and X-rays, Long said.

Acute care vs. comprehensive care
• Acute care: treatment for medical issues like sore throat, urinary tract infections, coughs, sprains.
• Comprehensive care: Acute-care treatment, plus routine well-care (physicals, immunizations, growth and development monitoring).

The Valley Center clinic has only been open Tuesday and Thursday mornings and has focused on a more limited acute-care model.

But the plan is to expand the clinic’s services and offer care every school morning. The school district is also considering opening the clinic during the summer.

“We’re hoping that more hours and days will help the clinic really take off,” said Valley Center assistant superintendent Mike Bonner. “We hope it helps it become more normal for our families and more of a resource.”

Although each school district only operates one school-based clinic, each serves all students in their school system. In Valley Center, staff can also receive care — something Haysville plans to expand to next semester, Long said.

For students to receive care, though, parents need to fill out a consent form. Teachers, staff and school nurses may refer families to the clinics but parents make the decisions about treatment.

“We still require parents to be at appointments with children, so they still have all the say in the medical care of their child,” Long said.

Patients, or parents in students’ cases, and their insurance providers are billed for services. Long emphasized that the clinics aren’t necessarily “free clinics,” but clinic and school support services staff will work with families to determine if they qualify for KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program, which the clinics universally accept.

“If you don’t have KanCare when you come in, we’ll find out why and work with you to get it, because it should be accessible to those who need it,” Long said. 

Linda Long, coordinator at Haysville USD 261’s school-based health clinic, said services like the clinic’s medical care support classroom instruction and lead to better student achievement. (Fernando Salazar/The Beacon)

Keeping kids in class

Before the clinics opened, most students in Haysville and Valley Center had to head to Wichita to see a primary care physician or receive urgent care.

Neither community is particularly far from Wichita, but time adds up if parents have to take off from work to get a child from school, drive to a doctor’s office in Wichita, wait to be seen, return the child to school and finally get back to work.

“A school bus may bring your child from your house to the school, but they’re not stopping by the doctor’s office,” Long said. “When we can solve all of those things and remove those barriers, that keeps children in their desks a lot more frequently, and that’s our goal.”

The clinics have been especially helpful for students over the past year of pandemic learning, when so many other factors kept them away from the classroom. 

The rate of chronic absenteeism — or missing more than 10 days of school — in Kansas surged from 13.9% in 2019 to 17.5% in 2021, with Black, Hispanic and lower-income students disproportionately affected, Education Commissioner Randy Watson said in October.

“Throughout the time of COVID and with students having to be home because either the school wasn’t open or they were sick, they missed a lot of school,” Bonner said. “Being able to keep them in school now is so beneficial.”

Some of Weaver’s service in Haysville is catch-up work. In the school-based health clinic’s first few weeks in October and ahead of the district’s immunization cutoff date, Weaver was busy jabbing students’ arms with the required immunizations they’d missed in the past.

“I’ve seen a lot of kids who probably haven’t received the treatment that they needed for several years,” Weaver said. “I’ve seen them and been able to start working with them to get them back on the right track.”

“Maybe they’ll be a little more comfortable going to get care if it’s in their school, since it might be a little less intimidating compared to a regular doctor’s office.”

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Garcia was an education reporter at The Wichita Beacon and Report for America corps member.