WESTBROOK — A health clinic will open in April at Westbrook High School to serve students’ medical and mental health needs and help address behaviors such as drinking and drug use that put teens at risk.

Greater Portland Health approached the School Department about setting up the clinic in response to a yearly survey that showed at-risk behaviors among the 700 Westbrook High School students as identified by the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, put out by the Center for Disease Control.

It also noticed that Westbrook residents were frequent visitors to its Portland clinics.

“In our data we have hundreds of patients who are actually from Westbrook,” said Ann Tucker, Greater Portland Health CEO. “This connection will allow the opportunity to connect with students for that part of the population at the school using us as their medical home, but to also be available for other students.”

In 2019, about 22% of Westbrook High School students said they have thought about suicide, and 34% reported having depression at some point that interfered with their daily lives over the span of a year.

Nearly a quarter of the Westbrook students said they had smoked marijuana within the past month, 17% said they drank alcohol, 11.8% used tobacco in some form and 13% said they had abused pain medications and 8% abused inhalants like glue or paint.

Of the students surveyed, 37.3% of high schoolers said they had been sexually active.

The clinic will be entirely funded and operated by Greater Portland Health, a nonprofit medical practice established in 2009 as the Portland Community Health Center. Greater Portland Health serves nearly 12,000 people from eight offices in Portland and one in South Portland. At Westbrook High School, its clinic will be located next to the nurse’s office.

“The goal is to provide primary and emergency care to all students to take away a barrier,” Superintendent Peter Lancia said. “Getting preventative or critical care can be a challenge for a lot of our students.”

The clinic will assist any student, with parental permission, even if they do not have health insurance.

The clinic is set to open in April, but an exact date and hours are yet to be set. It will only serve high school students, but that may expand over time, and Greater Portland Health is already considering adding a dental aspect, Tucker said.

“Some of our students really need a dentist, and we know it. I had a kid come in recently. I knew she has an abscess, I begged my dentist to take her, and luckily he did, but they will be able to get treatment for that in the future hopefully as well,” school nurse Roberta Curtis said.

Having a medical clinic at the school can help address those issues and bring the numbers down, Greater Portland Health says.

“The health center when it first opens will be staffed by a clinical social worker, who works for us, and also a physician who is our clinical director of the school-based health centers along with a medical assistant,” Tucker said.

Portland Health already operates clinics at Portland, Casco Bay and Deering high schools and King Middle School, all in Portland.

Students will need parental permission to participate in the clinic program, and if insured, their insurance may be charged for medicine, for example. But the clinic will serve uninsured students, too.

“We don’t ever at the health center ask students for money,” Tucker said. “Part of being a federally qualified health center is our funding comes from federal grant funding, which allows us to provide care regardless of ability to pay.”

The clinic will directly support the school nurse. When the nurse has a student who needs a vaccine or a physical, they will be able to send that student next door. Students with issues related to sexual health, either looking for contraceptives or seeking medical advice, will also be able to go next door.

“Before February break, I saw a lot of kids with sore throats that looked like strep,”  Curtis said. “With this clinic next door, there will be strep tests so I won’t have to send them out to a clinic that needs them to have an adult with them.”

The same goes for missing vaccines or for injuries that might need to be seen by a doctor.

The nurse will still be a valuable asset to the school, Tucker said, because the clinic won’t be open all of the time. Clinic hours have yet to be scheduled.

“Nurses will be invaluable in the scheduling aspect, but they also do a number of other things for the student body a clinic doesn’t,” Tucker said. “We will be collaborating heavily with their nurse.”

“I think this will be a great addition to this school, and a lot these kids don’t have doctors, they go to the emergency room for things every time,” Curtis said. “The social worker is well needed. The two social workers here are so excited about a third coming on board. That tells me the need is there.”

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