BROOKLYN — Four school-based health clinics run by SUNY Downstate are closing — and parents and local officials are mounting a campaign to save them.
SUNY Downstate confirmed the decision to DNAinfo on Friday after word of the closings started trickling out to staff.
School-based health clinics, which see students free of charge, regardless of insurance status, offer much more than a traditional school nurse. They are overseen by a certified physician and have, at minimum, a nurse practitioner who can administer medicines and write prescriptions for students.
There are 145 school-based health centers serving more than 345 schools across the boroughs. Because of state budget cuts and changes in the way the State Department of Health's allocates funding for these centers — which took effect July 1 — these facilities are under threat. SUNY Downstate is the first to announce closures.
SUNY Downstate saw its state funding grant for its clinics drop nearly 70 percent to $198,000 from $669,000.
The clinics located in Park Slope’s M.S. 51 and the Carroll Gardens building shared by the Brooklyn New School and Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies are shutting down. Also closing is the clinic in Boerum Hill’s P.S. 38 and the one shared by the School for International Studies, Digital Arts and Cinema Technology High School, District 75’s Star Academy and Success Academy Cobble Hill. SUNY Downstate's clinic at P.S. 13 in East New York will remain open.
“SUNY Downstate received a reduction in funding amounting to approximately two-thirds of its previous [school clinics] grant award,” Ronald Najman, spokesman for SUNY Downstate Medical Center said in a statement explaining the closures.
At the same time, he added, Downstate received a large reduction in state and federal Medicaid programs known as “Disproportionate Share Hospital” funding.
“As a result, while Downstate is able to maintain its [clinic] at PS 13 in East New York, it is no longer able to operate four other centers,” Najman said. “Downstate is committed to working with New York State to ensure a smooth transition if NYS is able to identify a new sponsor institution.”
Other medical centers that run school-based health clinics were also hit hard by the budget cuts, including East Harlem’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, NYU Langone-Brooklyn and The Bronx’s Montefiore. It remains unclear how the budget cuts will impact those locations.
SUNY Downstate took over the four shuttering clinics eight years ago from the now-defunct Long Island College Hospital (LICH), after parents rallied to prevent the centers from shuttering.
Families hope they can rally to preserve the medical centers again.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron, City Councilman Brad Lander and other politicians last week launched a petition to save the clinics, calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state health department to keep them open. More than 1,200 people signed on as of Monday.
Cuomo's office did not immediately respond for comment.
The City's Department of Education, in fact, has become more reliant on school-based health clinics as ways to boost its most struggling schools, making access to health care the foundation for its “community school” model to boost performance and attendance at failing and other schools serving the city’s neediest students.
"The State's budget cuts directly hit some of our neediest school communities and are forcing providers to eliminate critical health services that students and families rely on throughout the year,” DOE spokeswoman Toya Holness said. “These are basic health services that families need to have access to and we are working closely with city agencies and partners to ensure their needs are met."
Parents of elementary school students appreciate the clinics because they don’t have to take off from work to have their children tested for strep, ear infections or pink eye. In high school, the clinics provide reproductive care to older adolescents, who may not otherwise have access to that assistance.
When contraception was introduced at 44 high schools a few years back, there was a 40 percent reduction of teen pregnancy rates within two years, according the clinic at the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies and Brooklyn New School.
The clinics also help students with chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes and also provide mental health services. One-third of visits to school-based health clinics are for mental health, according to the New York School-Based Health Alliance.
Research shows that these clinics can help students manage their illnesses while at school, which means they miss class less, reducing absenteeism. Additionally, the clinics cut hospitalizations and trips to the emergency rooms, according to school officials.
Jacqueline Carrier, parent coordinator of the Boerum Hill School for International Studies, which runs from grades 6 through 12, was concerned about the impacts on her school community.
“It’s going to be detrimental for the majority of our high school students. They go to the clinic a lot. They find it easy and convenient to find someone right away,” she said. “Our middle school students also utilize it really well. It’s a great thing to have.”