The role of obstacle-free healthcare in California’s public schools

By Thomas Shaffer

In the current landscape of public school healthcare initiatives, accessibility remains a significant hurdle. Whether talking about mental or physical health services, the majority of schools are still struggling to provide adequate care for their students, staff and educators — even in California.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 13 percent of public schools agree that they can effectively provide mental health services to all of their students in need. Others are concerned about offering proactive physical screenings and care.

This is a common challenge — but one that shouldn’t stop schools from accessing valuable resources.

Districts across the state have left millions of dollars unclaimed through Medi-Cal billing under the Local Educational Agency Billing Option Program (LEA BOP) and School-Based Medi-Cal Administrative Activities (SMAA).

It’s time we recognize this gap and increase healthcare accessibility, specifically on school campuses. Let’s talk a bit more about the role of accessible healthcare in California school communities.

Why on-campus healthcare accessibility matters

The ramifications of limited healthcare accessibility extend beyond physical health concerns. Students and staff face challenges in obtaining timely screenings and preventive services for mental wellness, which can lead to profound consequences.

Rates of anxiety and depression have spiked in children since the pandemic. Currently, it’s estimated that over 2.7 million children are living with severe to major depression — and school healthcare can play a major role in preventative care, treatment and support.

If we are to foster a strong generation for the future, ongoing and accessible healthcare is vital, starting in students’ places of learning.

Paving the way for change

The good news is that a positive shift has already begun, offering schools more resources to connect with accessible healthcare solutions.

One notable example is Healthy Campus, formerly Campus Clinic, an organization working to address the unique healthcare needs of students. They’ve forged partnerships with more than 600 schools, including several in school districts in California, illustrating the potential for on-campus mental and physical wellness programs. The organization can help to close the gap between schools and appropriate healthcare funding through its software that unifies resources in one ecosystem, automating the administrative burden placed on districts.

Most recently, Healthy Campus has received funding through California’s Child and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative, which will support an array of transformative mental health interventions aimed at addressing the urgent needs of students in the Vista Unified School District. The initiative will target schools where the need is most acute, with statistics indicating high levels of socioeconomic disadvantage, food insecurity and a significant proportion of English learners.

Ultimately, the goal is to make highly accessible healthcare on California school campuses affordable and normal, not a specialty or luxury reserved for the few.

Paths to obstacle-free healthcare solutions

As LEAs prioritize on-campus healthcare, it’s crucial that they think about how they’ll get there. Some of the core pinpoints on the roadmap should include:

  • Providing low- or no-cost services. Schools will need to reduce financial constraints that could hinder access to healthcare services.
  • Facilitating safe, secure access. It’s not just about making healthcare available — it’s about fostering a protected, welcoming environment (virtually or in person).
  • Ensuring high-quality services. Delivering top-notch care should be at the forefront of all campus healthcare solutions.
  • Ensuring program sustainability. Schools must ensure they are collecting payments through state programs such as LEABOP and the upcoming CYBHI Multi-payer fee schedule. Technology plays a key role in successful claim reimbursement.

By focusing on priorities like these, LEAs and campuses have the opportunity to create a “culture of healthcare” that extends beyond rudimentary care.

There is unlimited potential for healthcare in California public schools, and collaborative efforts with healthcare partners can (and will) shape the future of youth healthcare.

To learn more about the initiatives  taking place at Vista USD and other LEAs, visit the Healthy Campus website.

Thomas Shaffer is the president of Healthy Campus