On March 17 at Middletown High School, the Appoquinimink School District, the Division of Public Health and Christiana Care joined with an array of elected officials, educators and health care providers to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the state’s first school-based health center.
The community health program, which began at Middletown High School and has grown to include 29 schools, has been effective in meeting the health needs of adolescents, said Mary M. Stephens, M.D., MPH, medical director of Christiana Care’s School-Based Health Centers. Christiana Care has been involved in school-based health centers for more than 20 years and took over management of Middletown School-Based Health Center from the Division of Public Health in 2011. Currently, Christiana Care provides services at 15 school-based health centers.
“By caring for students where they spend so much of their day we assist them in a protective environment,” said Dr. Stephens, adding that there were 21,000 visits to Christiana Care’s school-based centers last year.
Within the centers, teens have the chance to see nurse practitioners, licensed clinical social workers and registered dietitians.
“This is access to care in the heart of a community and this type of service is at the core of Christiana Care’s mission.”
–Mary M. Stephens, M.D., MPH
Among those marking the 30th anniversary was Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who attended with his mother, Leni Markell, the Middletown center’s first licensed clinical social worker.
“Everything important I have learned about school-based health centers I learned from my mother,” said Markell.
Valerie Woodruff, former secretary of the Delaware Department of Education and principal of Middletown High School when the health center opened there, was on hand, along with Mike Castle, former congressman and governor. Castle, who advocated for the launch of the centers in 1985, and said he is pleased that they still offer medical treatment, mental health services, family counseling, health education, nutrition counseling, sports and school physical along with other services.
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, who is also a former Delaware governor, joined the celebration, via a recorded video. Carper said when he came into office in 1993 he was able to expand the school-based health program with the support of the legislature.
A former student also spoke at the celebration to express her thanks. Caitlin Fitzpatrick, 26, was a student at Middletown from 2003 until her 2007 graduation.
“The wellness center became an important support for me,” said Fitzpatrick, who sought therapy there and help with time management and peer conflict.
She was also inspired by the dedication of the staff and went on to earn a degree in psychology from Wilmington University. After college graduation, she met with Christiana Care’s Patricia Cotton, LCSW, and coordinator of the Middletown school-based wellness center, asking how she could do an internship in this setting and become a mental-health practitioner. Cotton advised Fitzpatrick to pursue a master’s degree in social work, which she did, earning her degree at Delaware State University.
“As part of that program I was accepted as an intern at Middletown High School and felt that I had come full circle, helping another generation of students in the offices where I was helped,” said Fitzpatrick, who is now employed as a social worker. Stephens said Fitzpatrick’s story rings true, in that students can come to the centers with serious problems and are often eager to take advantage of services.
“Sometimes all students need is a little help to keep on track, but without that help a problem could snowball,” she said. “We want to keep teenagers in school and we do that by providing access to care from staff invested in students’ well-being.”
There also is research to suggest that school-based centers improve access to providers and educate students about their health, reduce emergency room visits, lower the body mass index of students and improve graduation rates, said Dr. Stephens.
During the celebration, Dr. Stephens recognized numerous local and state dignitaries. At the state level, they included Sen. Bruce Ennis, Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, Rep. Kevin Hensley, and Karyl T. Rattay, M.D., MS, FAAP, FACPM, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health.
Others taking part in the celebration were Robert Stout, a member of Middletown Town Council; William Powers of New Castle County Council; Matt Burrows, superintendent of Appoquinimink School District; Matt Donovan, principal of Middletown High School; and Christiana Care staff from the Middletown health center.