Activists: School-based health clinics need cash

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Advocates for better health services for students are asking Gov. Rod Blagojevich to more than double funding for school-based health centers in 2008.

Activists want an additional $5 million to open 20 new centers across the state, including Chicago, and to enhance services in existing facilities. Currently, the state spends roughly $4 million annually on the centers.

Representatives from the Illinois Coalition for School Health Centers, as well as students from Chicago Public Schools, rallied recently at the James R. Thompson building in Chicago to press the governor to include the additional funding when he announces his 2008 budget on March 7.

The group is also working to garner support from legislators as they hammer out details of the budget this spring, says Karen Berg, the policy director for the coalition.

But with the state facing tight financial times, winning additional funding is likely to be a tough sell. “In any government, there are priorities that have to be weighed,” says Berg. “The reality for this program is that there are other things that [also] need more funding.”

Chicago currently has 23 school-based centers; 18 receive state funding. Nationally, the number of centers is on the rise, up 200 in recent years to a current total of about 1,700, according to the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care.

Linda Juszczak, deputy director of the National Assembly, says most school-based centers are located in communities where families have limited access to medical care. The centers, which typically work with a sponsoring medical facility to provide free or low-cost health services during school hours, make medical care more accessible for students by removing financial and transportation barriers.

Limited access is a tremendous problem, Juszczak says. “Sometimes [centers] are the sole source of care.” The National Assembly is pushing for legislation for more federal funding.