Mitchell-based health clinic gets nod
Peak Vista community site will be headquartered at Southeast high school
Mitchell High School will soon be home to a multi-service community health clinic.
The Colorado Springs School District 11 (D11) Board of Education voted, 6-1, after more than an hour of debate on March 21, to partner with Peak Vista Community Health Care Center on the site. Board member Theresa Null cast the dissenting vote.
The pact says the district will foot the $1.1 million bill to revamp 4,850 square feet of underutilized floorspace in the Southeast-area high school. But Peak Vista, the area’s largest provider of Medicaid coverage, plans to apply for a government grant to help cover costs and expedite the renovations.
The agreement is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2024, but if things go well, it could be extended.
When completed in December, the clinic, located at 1250 Potter Drive, will provide Mitchell students and families, feeder schools and the surrounding neighborhoods with primary care, behavioral health and dental services. It is expected to house two full-time medical providers, two full-time behavioral health providers, a dental provider and on-site clinical and administrative support staff.
Superintendent Michael Thomas called it “an opportunity to … for us to bring in services to a medically underserved area in our city, as well as one of our most medically underserved high schools.”
The new facility will include physical and dental exam rooms, mental health offices and waiting space, among other features.
Peak Vista already operates campus-based facilities at Carmel Middle School, 1740 Pepperwood Drive, and at Falcon Elementary School, 12050 Falcon Highway, Falcon. The Mitchell campus will be the first community clinic of its kind, however, in that it will provide services not just to students, but to their families, district staff and community members.
It is the latest in a slew of recent healthy overhauls in Southeast. Peak Vista opened a campus at 1815 Jet Wing Drive in February, and last month Matthews-Vu Medical Group took over ownership and operation of Value Care Health Clinic.
“The overall health and wellness of students is critical for them to be able to access any type of academic content,” Thomas said.
He added that the clinic will also help the high school, which is on the Colorado Department of Education accountability clock, meet some of its self-imposed improvement goals. Those include reducing failing grades and increasing graduation rates both through the classroom and the school’s culture.
“When you have strong schools, you have strong community,” Thomas said. “For us, this makes sense in terms of what we naturally desire to do at Mitchell as we reform that school.”
“We have an ethical and moral obligation for doing something different.” — Colorado Springs School District 11 Superintendent Michael Thomas
Building a vision
The vote for the new clinic was not cast lightly. Peak Vista Chief Executive Pam McManus told the board opportunity for the partnership arose just this year, when she received an invitation to apply for a federal grant that could help cover the cost.
Board members countered that the decision had been rushed, and without significant time for discussion or weighing against other district concerns. Director Elaine Naleski pointed to data showing the district’s coffers for facilities maintenance were running low, and to a dire warning that a 1,000-student drop in district-wide enrollment that had staff bracing for layoffs.
“We’ve been hearing … we’re almost out of budget for the year; we’ve been hearing about security concerns in the schools,” Board Member Elaine Naleski said. “I think it’s really ironic that you’re asking us to spend $1.1 million at this time when we’re cutting all these people who are the heart of our organization.
“I love Peak Vista, I’ve worked with them for years in partnership. … (But) I don’t think I’m going to hear anything tonight that will make me say, ‘I’m willing to spend $1.1 million on redoing Mitchell for this clinic’ when I have to tell all of these people they’re losing their jobs.”
Thomas, however, assured her that the dollars the contract leveraged could not be used for staffing. What the expense could do, he said, is change the dynamic between the high school and its neighborhood.
“When you can stabilize an entire family unit, it lessens the mobility and it stabilizes the entire community and they don’t have to move around,” he said. “Full-service community schools that I’ve been part of not only have had comprehensive health care services, there have been job training and resume writing programs for parents, there have been language-acquisition programs for parents, there are fair-housing programs.
“We have an ethical and moral obligation for doing something different.”
“Peak Vista’s mission is to make sure we are there for the kids and the families. …Our goal is really to keep kids in their seats.” — Peak Vista CEO Pam McManus
A healing alternative
Mitchell Principal Carlos Perez told the board that the opportunity cost of a clinic, which could not just prevent kids from getting so sick they miss class but stabilize their family units, exceeds the fiscal investment.
“To me, this school-based clinic is not a fixer overnight,” he said, “but I truly believe that over the years, what we will see is stabilizing families because they have a place to have healthcare. When we talk to the parents, they trust us. We can refer them to the clinic and they can get health care.
“The cost of our kids not finishing school and graduating. The impact that has on the community is a lot larger than $1.2 million.”
Peak Vita’s McManus said the community health center is expected to serve almost 5,300 Southeast patients.
“Peak Vista’s mission is to make sure we are there for the kids and the families,” she said. “My latest stat is that a child that has poor oral health care is 3 times more likely to miss (school) than a child with care. Our goal is really to keep kids in their seats.”
It also doesn’t hurt that kids who are interested in becoming care providers could get a first-hand look, she said.
“Anything we can do to encourage kids to consider a health care career, we’ll do it,” she said. “We currently offer scholarships for medical assistance and dental assistants where if they’ll work for us for two years, we’ll put them through training.
“If kids have that drive and intuition to help others, we’re opening up opportunities to them.”