A Kaiser Permanente physician is on a quest to care for kids at high-need, low-income schools.
When students at John F. Kennedy High School or Sylvester Greenwood Academy in Richmond, California, need confidential birth control counseling, asthma control, or an urgent sports physical, they can do it all at school.
That’s thanks in large part to Kaiser Permanente’s Cherilyn Brunetti, MD, a Pinole-based pediatrician and director of the Kaiser Permanente Regional Teen Pregnancy Counseling Program, who led the effort to open school-based clinics at Kennedy High in 2012 and Greenwood Academy in 2016.
Dr. Brunetti and her colleagues are exploring the development of a third clinic at the newly built Pinole Valley High School in Pinole, which would be staffed by Kaiser Permanente physicians 3 days a week.
A Community Benefit
“When I was working at Kaiser Richmond, I had a lot of teens who wouldn’t show up for appointments or if they had a follow-up they wouldn’t come in,” said Dr. Brunetti, recalling her inspiration for starting the clinics. “I thought if I could take a clinic from Kaiser into a high-need high school and offer services to the whole school, not just Kaiser patients, it would benefit the community.”
Today, Kaiser Permanente physicians see students at the schools several times a week, eliminating the need for what can be daunting appointment logistics for working parents.
The presence of the clinics at all 3 schools is likely to improve educational outcomes, including increasing grade point average and graduation rates, and decreasing absenteeism and tardiness, according to a February report published in the journal Pediatrics. African American males who used a school health clinic were 3 times as likely to stay in school as their peers who did not use a school-based clinic, according to a Seattle study quoted in the same article.
Approximately 200 students come in for more than 500 appointments a year at Kennedy High School where Brunetti sees patients one day a week. Other providers contracted with Contra Costa County see patients an additional 2 days a week. At Greenwood Academy, 7 Kaiser Permanente physicians see about 100 students each year, 5 days a week.
Lee Villanueva, MD, is a family physician at Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center who has been seeing teens at the Greenwood Academy clinic since it opened in 2016.
“Just having them feel comfortable approaching a doctor or a clinic gives them the idea they can do it on their own, and it feels empowering for a young person to know help is there,” Dr. Villanueva said. “Knowing that they can take control of their health is applicable in a lot of things later in life, and it makes an imprint on their psyche.”
Dr. Brunetti said not only do the students benefit from care they receive at school, but doctors who work in the clinics feel good about providing an essential public service.
“If a student needs follow-up care, I can call them out of class and see them,” she said. “Parents love it because they don’t have to get out of work to take their kid to the doctor. Once we open a clinic and start doing the work, it’s infectious. It’s nice to feel like we are there for the kids.”