For the Sake of All Partnership Creates New School-Based Health Center

Community Engagement; Public Health

For the Sake of All, an initiative based out of the Brown School, celebrated a milestone in its multifaceted approach to address health inequities among African Americans in St. Louis with the recent opening of a health center on the campus of Normandy High School.

The center, which opened in August 2017, offers primary and behavioral health care to students and staff in the public school district, which serves more than 3,200 students in preschool through grade 12 within 23 communities in north St. Louis County. Services at the center are provided without regard to a student’s ability to pay. Later this year, the center will extend its hours to further serve all residents living within the school district’s boundaries. 

Extensive research suggests school-based health centers increase youth access to care, improve student attendance and academic achievement, and empower students with their own health and wellness, all key tools in fighting health inequity. 

“Students and families in this community have significant barriers to health care and numerous health and behavioral health needs,” said Jason Purnell, associate professor at the Brown School and director of For the Sake of All. “It’s very affirming to see our work contribute to an outcome that will have an immediate impact on students.”

A workgroup convened by For the Sake All, consisting of nearly 100 community members, identified developing school-based health centers in the St. Louis region as a key “next step” in For the Sake of All’s goal to promote healthy schools. 

In 2017 For the Sake of All further organized a leadership group of about 25 community members in the fields of health, education and youth development. The group met regularly to foster partnerships, rally support and build expertise to open school-based health centers in all high-need high schools in the region and to further sustain existing ones.

To that end, For the Sake of All researchers began a needs assessment in Normandy High School earlier this year to identify the health needs and services to best serve the community. Nearly half of the Normandy area’s youth, 48 percent, live in poverty, almost three times the youth poverty rate in St. Louis County. 

Parents reported nearby health care centers were overbooked, and families had to wait weeks or months for an appointment.  Youth living in the school district had more than double the emergency room visit rate of the county as a whole, due in part to a lack of local, primary care. Parents and staff said in interviews and surveys students had to miss a whole day of school just to take public transportation to get to a doctor’s office. Students also reported deep stresses in their lives affecting their behavioral health. More than a quarter of students surveyed said they had trouble sleeping at night and worried about the future. 

“There was overwhelming support among students, staff, and parents to provide consistent, accessible health care services within the high school,” Purnell said. “Increased health means an increased ability to learn.”

Dr. Charles Pearson, superintendent of the Normandy Schools Collaborative, welcomed the new center. 

“We are incredibly excited about the short- and long-term benefits of this project,” he said. “Research has shown that young people are less likely to miss school due to illness when they have access to affordable healthcare options. This collaboration can have a direct, positive impact on the entire community.”

The center was made possible through partnership between the Normandy Schools Collaborative, For the Sake of All, and other St. Louis organizations in the fields of health and youth development. Additional financial support was provided by the Dana Brown Charitable Trust.

Other partners include:

  • Affinia Healthcare, a federally qualified community health center, which will be operating the health center located at Normandy High. Affinia Healthcare (formerly Grace Hill Health Centers) provides affordable primary and preventive health care services to residents of St. Louis and surrounding areas. This nonprofit has operated in St. Louis since 1906.
  • BJC HealthCare, the area’s largest healthcare provider, provided in-kind donations to the clinic, including furnishings and medical supplies.
  • Wyman, which seeks to empower teens from economically disadvantaged circumstances to lead successful lives and build strong communities.

More than 2,300 school-based health centers in the U.S. have been proven to increase access to health care and improve health care costs, health outcomes and academic outcomes. 

Normandy is one of just a handful of health centers operating in schools in the region.  For the Sake of All is currently conducting needs assessments for health centers in two other high schools in north St. Louis County. Similar partnerships are forming to open those health centers by the start of the 2017-2018 school year.