Health resource program eyed in 4 school districts

An initiative to open health resource centers at four Venango County school districts was initiated at the state level by the Philadelphia-based non-profit AccessMatters and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The proposed centers, which deal broadly with matters of sexual concern to adolescents, came to the attention of two local organizations last year. The organizations are Magee Women’s Specialty Center-UPMC Northwest and Youth Alternatives.

They would be coordinating the AccessMatters/Department of Health programs for students ages 13-19 in the four school districts.

“AccessMatters has 37 sites in 11 different counties,” said Kim Reed, office manager with the Magee Women’s Specialty Center. “The clinics have been going on since 1991.”

The four school districts targeted for the program are at different points in the process of considering the centers.

Franklin School Board voted in December to establish the centers.

Valley Grove School Board heard a presentation Monday from UPMC and AccessMatters and will be considering the use of the centers/programs at Rocky Grove High School.

Corinne Carbaugh, the project coordinator at Youth Alternatives, said Youth Alternatives has met with the co-principals at Oil City High School but hasn’t formally presented the program to Superintendent Lynda Weller or the school board.

“Oil City has been only slightly appraised of the program,” said Carbaugh, who added that the board of Youth Alternatives is still considering the matter.

Youth Alternatives is also the selected organization (by AccessMatters) to establish the proposed center at Cranberry High School, but Carbaugh said Youth Alternatives hasn’t talked with anyone at Cranberry.

“If we do administer this program in the schools,” said Carbaugh, “then we will do it with ‘baby steps,’ starting at Oil City, see how it goes, and then possibly expanding to Cranberry.”

Reed said the initiative for these centers started with the state Department of Health because “the statistics on Venango County qualified the county as a priority for these grants.

After discussions between UPMC and AccessMatters, UPMC responded this summer to an application for administering the programs and receiving grants to do so and the application had been released from the Department of Health,” Reed said.

Carbaugh said that in the case of Youth Alternatives, AccessMatters contacted them in the spring of 2018 about the program.

“We were targeted because we have existing programs for youth who are in the targeted age of 13-19,” Carbaugh said.

Carbaugh said Venango County scored “high in several risk factors for adolescents, with Oil City scoring especially high,” in comparison with other counties in the state.

Carbaugh said the risks dealt with three things – a high number of youth without health insurance; adolescent sexual and reproductive health, especially more teen pregnancies; and other things such as drinking, depression, substance abuse and lack of meals.

The clinics function as confidential drop-in centers at the schools. Depending on the agreements between the schools and administrators, students would receive information on topics such as abstinence and pregnancy prevention methods.

In addition, the clinics would provide students with information on referrals to other health resources outside the schools. Matters addressed by these outside agencies would include sexual and reproductive health, including contraceptives; reproductive healthcare services and STD/HIV testing; adolescent health; social service providers and sexual assault.

The counselors at the clinics are trained by AccessMatters, said Carbaugh.