PORTLAND – High school students urged gubernatorial candidates Tuesday to maintain and possibly increase state funding for 27 school-based health centers in 17 Maine districts.

Members of the student health center outreach teams at Deering and Portland high schools hosted a breakfast for gubernatorial candidates in the State of Maine Room at City Hall and provided a tour of the health center at Portland High.

Students said the health centers are a cost-effective, convenient way to provide health care to students. Services range from physical exams and dental cleanings to mental health counseling and birth control for sexually active students.

“We want more school health centers,” said Mandi Arnott, a Deering High senior.

Democratic candidates Pat McGowan, Libby Mitchell, John Richardson and Steve Rowe attended the breakfast, along with Republican candidate Peter Mills and Dr. Melanie Cutler, wife of independent candidate Eliot Cutler.

Nearly 14,300 students — about 7.5 percent of Maine’s public and private school population in kindergarten through high school — have access to school-based health centers, according to data provided by the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine.

About 94 percent of all visits to Maine’s school-based health centers last year were covered by public or private insurance. About half of those visits were made by students covered by MaineCare, a publicly funded health insurance option for low-income people.

Students and others at Tuesday’s breakfast said the centers help to reduce sick days, emergency room visits and hospital stays, as well as tobacco and marijuana use.

They described the centers as important community resources that should have dependable state funding.

Last year, the operating budgets of 20 school-based health centers were funded partially by the state, while the others were privately funded, according to the Muskie school.

This year, 18 centers are getting state funding.

After the breakfast, McGowan said he was impressed with the student outreach teams and the potential for peer-to-peer health education initiatives stemming from school-based health centers.

“There should be more of them,” McGowan said. “I’d like to learn more about it.”

Mitchell said she believes that all Maine students should have access to school-based health centers. “It’s a perfect example of something that works but isn’t available to all Maine students,” she said.

Richardson said he was especially impressed with the centers’ potential to reduce costs through preventive health care and educational outreach, including anti-smoking and alcohol prevention campaigns.

“It makes perfect sense,” he said. “This would be a high priority for a Richardson administration.”

Rowe said he’s an advocate for providing a stable funding source for school-based health centers.

“The centers provide health services for many students who might not otherwise have access to comprehensive health care,” he said.

“And having healthy citizens is critical to having a healthy economy.”

Mills said he has been a fan of school-based health centers for years.

“You don’t have to persuade me of their value,” he said, noting that some companies are offering health care services in the workplace because it reduces employees’ time off the job for illness or medical appointments.

Cutler, who is a child psychiatrist, said the centers would factor into her husband’s plan to review how health care is delivered across Maine.

She said the centers’ approach jibes with her husband’s desire to address health care issues before they become health care problems.

Several students representing the health center at Lewiston High School also attended the breakfast.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]