Math, gym, dentist appointment, lunch.
For students at Oakridge Middle School in Muskegon, accessing routine and not-so-routine health care appointments doesn’t require missing a lot of class time.
It’s just a quick walk down the hall to the Oakridge Teen Health Center, which is operated by Hackley Community Care. The facility was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to implement integrated oral health services to support existing on-site primary and behavioral health care.
The teen health center opened in December 2015 and Oakridge Superintendent Tom Livezey said it has been a wonderful option for students and parents. The ability to handle dental appointments, counseling sessions and checkups without a major disruption to the school day means healthier kids and less stressed parents, who don’t have to miss work to transport their teens to appointments.
“We truly believe in the whole child model here, that healthy kids learn better,” Livezey said.
The integrated approach of having dental, behavioral and primary care in a one-stop shop is ideal, said Dr. Joshua Joshua, the dentist who works at the center. Dental health is absolutely linked to overall health, he explained, quipping that the jawbone is connected to the hipbone.
“You can’t separate one from the other,” he said.
In the community, dental issues were being treated in the emergency room due to access issues such as a lack of time or resources. The center helps put the focus back on less costly preventive care.
“Having care where they need it is key,” Joshua said.
Steven Oginsky, the physician’s assistant who attends to students’ primary care needs at the center, said having all three disciplines under one roof has been extremely helpful. He is able to ensure that patients follow through with recommended dental or behavioral treatment.
He’s also able to quickly consult with the other specialists to rule out contributing health factors that might make diagnosis tricky. He used the example of migraine headaches, which could be caused by mental stress, dental problems or medical issues. Instead of referring patients out, they can figure it out in one shot by collaborating.
Parents give consent for students to receive treatment at the center and Oginsky said he’s seen a real turnaround for students able to utilize mental health treatment for anxiety and depression.
“They know they can come here and get those services,” Oginsky said.
“Integrating primary care and dentistry is both effective, for treating the whole person, and cost effective. People who go to the emergency room with dental pain get help with the infection, but not the underlying source of the infection. We see this a lot,” said Kim Kratz, senior health analyst at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “We are delighted to partner with Hackley Community Health Center to provide the best care possible for the teens at Oakridge Middle School and members of their families.”
Hackley Community Care Center was one of three clinics in Michigan to receive funding toward integrating oral health services into their existing services. The Center for Family Health in Jackson was awarded $50,000 and Thunder Bay Community Health Services, Inc., in Onaway was awarded $67,350. All three clinics are part of a statewide informal initiative working to establish best practices in integrated care. The grants were part of more than $1 million of support awarded to safety net clinics statewide by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Read more about the grants here.
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Photo credit: Julie Bitely