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November 18, 2021
Health of the City: School-based Health Clinics through Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health
For nearly 30 years, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health has operated school-based health centers for School District of Lancaster students, providing essential medical services that keep students healthy and in school. Since opening its first location at Fulton Elementary in 1993, the partnership today includes two other elementary schools and McCaskey High School, and stands as a national model for effectively improving the health and well-being of students and their families.
Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health continues to bridge the gap between education and primary care by providing quality medical services. “The teachers are our greatest referral. I remember the early days at Fulton Elementary— we had about 40% of the students enrolled in the program. By the end of the second year of the clinic, 98% of the students enrolled. So much of it had to do with continuing our collaborative relationship by working together with the school staff and communicating with parents about the services we can provide for their families,” says Alice Yoder, Executive Director of Community Health for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.
The Community Health team stresses the importance of removing barriers to students receiving healthcare and does everything in their power to keep students well and in the classroom.
After the success seen at Fulton Elementary, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health continued to provide free healthcare, even after the five-year federal grant expired, and expanded to Carter & MacRae Elementary and to George Washington Elementary, respectively. In 2016 the health system opened an extension of Downtown Family Medicine at J.P. McCaskey High School, and in March of 2020, amid a global health crisis, McCaskey became the home base for essential COVID-related healthcare.
The health clinic became a testing site, assisted with contact tracing, and in 2021, began offering the vaccine as soon as it was authorized for ages 16+. “I am so proud of our team for pivoting to address these critical needs, while maintaining their dedication to providing access to meet all health needs. Our staff are here as trusted adults, not just to help students with their medical needs, but to listen to their concerns, celebrate with them in their successes, and to encourage them to do their best in school,” says Jessica Klinkner, the Manager of Community Health and Wellness.
All of the clinics meet COVID-related needs in addition to providing primary care services. The commitment from Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health staff and school district administrators enabled the McCaskey clinic to remain open every weekday since the COVID outbreak began.
From hosting weekly calls with medical providers and school district officials to providing resources and training to other schools in the district, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and the School District of Lancaster have demonstrated a healthy relationship between public health and education. This model could benefit other communities in our nation.
Yoder credits the success of the partnership to collaborating on a common goal: to continue to educate and meet the needs of the community. “We have been working hand in hand with the school for such a long time, developing relationships by working together on other significant issues, so during the pandemic, we were able to take action quickly. We know that we can all work effectively by ourselves, but we also know that by working together, we can be much more effective in meeting the needs of our community.” Thanks to the partnership between Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and the School District of Lancaster, and the tireless efforts of frontline workers, public health officials, teachers, and other education officials, Lancaster can proudly (and safely) say, school’s in session.
While they couldn’t mention every health professional who has faithfully served in Lancaster’s schools, the Community Health team wanted to thank Dr. Clark McSparren, a pediatrician who gave over 20 years of voluntary service to the school-based clinics.