Boerum Hill

5 school health clinics in Brooklyn saved for one more year

Parents, officials, schools fought closures — but future is unknown

August 14, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Assemblymember Robert Carroll and, right, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon hosted a press conference last week to announce that SUNY Downstate will be keeping five School Based Health Centers in Brooklyn open for one more year. Photo courtesy of Assemblymember Carroll’s Office

After 10 days of determined advocacy from parents, nurses, school administrators and elected officials, SUNY Downstate reversed its decision to close five School Based Health Centers (SBHCs) serving more than 4,000 students in Brooklyn when school opens in September.

Despite a looming cut in state funding, last week Downstate informed the principals at the schools located in Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and East New York that it will not be making any changes to its school based programs as it begins the academic year. Downstate made no commitment to keep the clinics open after the end of next year, however.

A spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle that Downstate’s President Dr. Wayne J. Riley, has directed staff members to work with program funders and supporters to explore ways to make the centers financially viable.

“It’s a great victory,” Assemblymember Robert Carroll (Park Slope, Kensington) told the Eagle on Monday. Carroll said he had never seen such a group — nurses, school administrators, parent coordinators, PTA members and elected officials, including his fellow Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon (Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn Heights) — “act together and within about ten days get such a great, great success.”

“We were on the phone to SUNY, the Department of Health, Ways and Means staff, government officials, trying to figure out how to mitigate” the damage, he said, adding, “I’m so impressed with all the different actors who came together around the issue and made it whole.”

Simon, in a statement, called SBHCs “a highly cost-effective method of delivering critical health care to children,” including immunizations, management of chronic illnesses and mental health services.

“We are grateful that SUNY Downstate has stepped up for our children, but recognize the need to build a sustainable infrastructure for the clinics going forward,” she said.

In June, five school clinics (previously reported as four clinics) serving nine schools in District 15 — M.S. 51 William Alexander; P.S. 013 and Achievement First East New York Charter School on the Roberto Clemente Campus; Brooklyn New School and Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies; P.S. 38 the Pacific School; the School for International Studies, Digital Arts and Cinema Technology High School and Success Academy — received a letter from Downstate informing them that because state funding had been dramatically reduced, Downstate’s SBHCs were in jeopardy. Downstate later announced that they could no longer operate the SBHCs and would be closing them.

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These SBHCs receive several thousand medical visits each year, including preventive and primary care, reproductive health care, emergency care, mental health and more.

“By providing these services immediately within the school building, students do not have to compromise their academic learning for their overall health, and students who normally would not have access to these services are able to receive them,” Stephanie Hochman and Velma McKenzie, M.S. 51 co-Parent Association presidents said in a statement.

“The clinic at M.S. 51 treats chronically ill students requiring mandated Section 504 services and responds to students in need of emergency medical care. In addition to our nurse practitioner, the clinic also provides a full-time social worker who cares for the social and emotional needs of many of our middle schoolers,” they said.

According to an analysis of multiple cost-benefit studies published in AJPM (American Journal of Preventative Medicine), SBHCs save the state money. The study concluded, “The economic benefit of SBHCs exceeds the intervention operating cost. Further, SBHCs result in net savings to Medicaid.”

Change to funding

The funding cuts were triggered when the state Comptroller required DOH to change the award methodology for SBHC funding using objective criteria, DOH said. Changed methodology included criteria such as enrollment, number of sites and an alternative source of funding, such as the city.

The overall statewide funding for School Based Health Centers is more than $61 million, according to DOH. The 2017-18 budget reduced this statewide funding by approximately 3 percent, or approximately $2.08 million.

This reduction was not spread out evenly across all SBHCs. In the final budget enacted by the state Legislature, some programs received funding reductions, while others received funding increases. Of the 26 NYC SBHC sponsor organizations, 13 received increased funding and 13 received decreased funding in the awards that began July 1, 2017.

According to figures supplied by DOH, Downstate’s funding plunged from $669,322 (in 2016 – 2017) to $198,187 (2017 – 2018).

Other Brooklyn SBHC sponsors receiving funding cuts include Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center, with a budget of $414,005 (2016 – 2017) decreasing to $153,480 (2017 – 2018). Brownsville Multi-Service Family Health Center was cut from $92,235 to $60,411. Lutheran Medical Center’s funding was slashed from $1,218,132 to $673,450.

A number of centers, however, received funding increases or are newly funded. For example, Kings Plaza Medical Center received no money this year, but is slated to receive $63,041 in 2017 – 2018. East NY Diagnostic & Treatment also received no funding this year, but will be receiving $97,006 in 2017 – 2018.

There are 145 SBHCs serving over 345 schools across NYC. Roughly 26 SBHCs will be affected by funding changes across the city, according to DOH.

While there are bills from the state legislature headed to the governor to reallocate funds to the SUNY clinics, “We don’t know if the governor is going to sign them,” Carroll told the Eagle.  State legislators will need to work on “making some changes to the funding rubric and stream,” and also “work with SUNY to make sure they have the resources to maintain the clinics,” he said.

Carroll also said that officials have also reached out to other hospital networks, operated by institutions such as NYU Langone and NY Presbyterian, as a contingency.

“These are preliminary talks,” he said.

A wide range of officials jumped into the fray when the closings were announced. These include Public Advocate Letitia James, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former state Senator Daniel Squadron, Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Councilmember Brad Lander, along with the New York State Nurses Association and the New York School-Based Health Alliance.

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This story was updated on Monday at 5:45 p.m. to include funding methodology for SBHCs supplied by the state DOH.

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