The current staff at the Lincoln Academy School Based Health Center. From left: Robyn Henny, Tori Wright LCSW, Lisa Katz LCSW, Heather Norris LCSW, SBHC Director Eric Duffy RN, and Janet Yost, NP

The Lincoln Academy School Based Health Center (SBHC) has taken a proactive approach to teen health this winter, collaborating with Lincoln Health, Healthy Lincoln County, and the Maine CDC to educate local teens and their families about health challenges facing young people. These trends were identified in a recent study undertaken by Healthy Lincoln County entitled “Lincoln County Community Health Needs Assessment 2018,” which surveyed 1000 teens in Lincoln County–almost half of of whom are LA students–about health issues that concern them the most.

Since the survey results were released in January, Lincoln Academy SBHC Director and school nurse Eric Duffy has been speaking to groups of parents and health professionals in effort to share information, collaborate to meet teens where they are, and offer services that feel timely and relevant. He has made presentations at the Lincoln Academy Parent Association (LAPA), the Great Salt Bay Parent Teacher Organization (GSB PTO), and recent a conference of healthcare providers from Maine Town Academies.

The unique nature of Lincoln Academy’s School-Based Health Center (SBHC) positions LA to be more proactive when it comes to issues of teen health in Lincoln County. SBHCs are part of the Maine state government’s effort to bring healthcare to rural and underserved populations. The LA SBHC was established in 1996 by founding Director Sharon Morrill with a grant from Miles Hospital.

The SBHC brings together a traditional school nurse’s office with a broader mission and deeper infrastructure to provide healthcare to teenagers where they are. In Lincoln Academy’s case, the SBHC has full time provider housed in the school, and receives direct support from Lincoln Health in the form of additional providers and medical support. LincolnHealth provides a nurse practitioner to practice on the LA campus for 8-10 hours a week, and this year they are also supporting an Integrated Behavioral Health Specialist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) to provide mental health services as well.

“Over the years the SBHC has evolved to become part of the fabric of the local community,” said Duffy, who took over directing the Health Center in 2016 after the previous Director Ricki Waltz left to work at Bath Middle School. “We try to connect students with local providers in a way that helps prevent health problems from developing. The structure of the SBHC and the fact that we can provide more holistic and preventative care than a regular school nurse’s office gives us a better platform for education, prevention, and long-term relationships with students. We work daily with students to help them make good choices that affect their long-term health more than a cough drop or a bandaid… though we have those too.”

“It is great having a full service health center that is working in the community to educate not just the students but parents and other community members who need information about health related topics that affect their teenagers,” said Doug Straus, a parent at both Great Salt Bay and Lincoln Academy who is the current president of LAPA.

According to Duffy, only part of the clinic’s strength is wellness, decision making, evaluating choices. Part of it is also a straightforward approach. “Having relationships with students through seeing them daily in the hallways and being part of the fabric of their education helps us connect with them about choices that affect their immediate and long-term health,” said Duffy. “Our relationships allow us to be straight with kids. When kids trust us they are more likely to listen when we give advice that’s hard to hear.”

In addition to educating parents and community members about health trends, the SBHC staff is proactive in other ways that help the school community’s overall wellbeing. They participate in the Student Services Team that meets weekly to keep kids from falling through the cracks. They work with wellness classes on issues around sexuality and substance abuse. They are on the lookout for families that may need a little help from the Sunshine Fund, which offers anything from winter boots, to a gas card, to heating assistance to LA families who have fallen on hard times. They help keep cubbies stocked with food for kids to grab a can of tuna or a box of macaroni and cheese for the weekend.

“Staying healthy is a community effort,” said Duffy. “Thanks to our partnership with Lincoln Health, we have a strong staff of people who really care about kids. Thanks to our partnership with Healthy Lincoln County and the Maine CDC we have current information about what issues concern kids the most. We connect with parents, teachers and social workers to help support these kids as they navigate stressful waters.”

Recent education efforts about vaping and other trends in teen health are a perfect example of how the SBHC can “think bigger than a regular school nurse’s office,” said Lisa Katz, one of the social workers currently working at LA through the SBHC. “We can take on a public health effort that has impacts on families and educators as well as local teens.”

Doug Straus attended Duffy’s recent presentations at both GSB and LA, where he was particularly interested in information about vaping. “It is very scary to learn that this new thing has come into the lives of our children and is spreading so fast. Having Eric talk at the meetings helped me feel more prepared to know how to talk to my kids and know what to look for.”