ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Students being able to get condoms and birth control at health clinics on high school campuses has sparked controversy in the past. However, health care workers claim many parents’ opinions are changing.
Now, lawmakers want to add more clinics in schools across New Mexico.
Albuquerque lawmakers are sponsoring a bill to appropriate funding for a student health clinic at West Mesa High School in Albuquerque.
The school health clinics have the look and feel of a doctor’s office. One of the oldest School-Based Health Center is inside Albuquerque High School.
“The demand is great all over the state for them,” explained Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino. “The School-Based Health Centers have a terrific record already.”
Ortiz y Pino is sponsoring Senate Bill 44, which asks for more than $16 million over five years to add more clinics in schools around the state.
Albuquerque Public Schools has seven schools with the clinics. The program is run through the University of New Mexico.
“We see everything,” said Dr. Jane McGrath, Chief of Adolescent Medicine at UNM. Doctor McGrath explained, students don’t always want to share problems with their parents.
“We see young people who are struggling with incredibly difficult situations,” said McGrath. The clinics offer everything from physicals, behavioral health counseling, even birth control and sex education.
In a separate bill, Albuquerque lawmakers are asking for $150,000 to add a clinic at West Mesa High School.
“I think it’s good, the kids should have an option,” said Noelia Luna Sucet, who has two teens at West Mesa High.
In the past, many parents didn’t like the idea of their kids getting condoms on campus without them knowing. But health care workers say that’s not all the program is about, and that many parents support the clinics.
“Sometimes it is an embarrassing conversation for the kids to come forward to their parents and tell them, ‘look mom this is what I’m doing,'” explained Luna Sucet. “They’re exposed to so much more of the real world than what we were when I was growing up.”
Services at the clinics are confidential. Insurance isn’t required, and the health care is low or no cost for students. Kids can walk down the hall to make an appointment.
“We see ourselves really in partnership with the educational system, because if kids aren’t healthy they can’t learn, if kids are hungry, they can’t learn, if they’ve got other concerns, they really can’t stay focused there at school,” explained Carol Pierce, School-Based Health Center Program Manager, at UNM.
Those who work in the clinic told KRQE News 13, they see the difference in the students they help.
McGrath gave an example of a high school senior who was able to get dental care for the first time in his life, through the clinics. She also said health workers encourage kids to talk to their parents about their issues.
When it comes to teen pregnancy, or sexually transmitted diseases, McGrath said school clinics help to educate students and provide the help they need.
“Our kids’ health and well-being, and the success of our young New Mexicans, is not a partisan issue,” said Dr. McGrath. “This is something we should all get behind.”
The School-Based Health Center program has actually been in New Mexico more than 20 years. Currently, there are only 53 across the state.
If Senator Ortiz y Pino’s bill passes, the state would add health clinics in 22 schools by 2020, and expand access to behavioral health treatment for young people.