Shawnee Mission School District, Health Partnership Clinic celebrate opening of innovative new Merriam Park operation

Students and community members toured the clinic at Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

It’s hard to pay attention in the schoolroom if your ear is throbbing or you’re having a hard time breathing.

Merriam Park principal Cho Druen said the goal of the clinic was to lower barrier to getting needed health care for students.

But for a large number of families in the Shawnee Mission area, getting timely access to a doctor is no easy task. It’s still common for lower-income families not to have health insurance. And even for families that qualify for KanCare, Kansas’s Medicaid program, there’s the challenge of finding a doctor that will accept that form of insurance.

Making access to physical, dental and mental health services for Shawnee Mission School District students in such situations easier is the goal of the new collaboration between the district and Health Partnership Clinics, Johnson County’s federally qualified healthcare provider.

Opened seven weeks ago, Health Partnership Clinics now has a clinic open on-site at Merriam Park Elementary two days a week. The clinic is open 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays for walk-in health services and 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Wednesdays for behavioral health services. Providers accept KanCare insurance, or accept out-of-pocket payment from the uninsured on a sliding scale based on household income.

On Thursday, officials from the district, the clinic, the city of Merriam and the local business community gathered for a ceremony marking the opening of the operation, the only school-based clinic of its kind in the county.

Amy Falk, Health Partnership Clinic’s CEO, said the opportunity to partner with the district on the on-site clinic fit perfectly with the organization’s goals of bringing quality health care services to people where they are. She said the chance to intervene with students on common health issues — like asthma, obesity or pre-diabetes — before they get more complicated has many benefits. For one, it allows the providers to address the issue before it can cause serious problems and require more intensive treatments. But it also supports kids’ ability to perform in the classroom.

“One of the components we know can prohibit learning is lack of wellness,” she said. “Even with something as common as an ear ache, if they are sitting there and their ear hurts, they’re not engaged. They’re not learning. So this is right in the model of what a community health center wants to be doing.”

Shelby Rebeck, Shawnee Mission’s health services coordinator, said the clinic had seen a wave of students needing treatment for the flu in the weeks after it opened. Since then, there have been many students coming in for well-child check ups, immunizations and sports physicals.

The clinic is open to all Shawnee Mission students, not just those enrolled at Merriam Park.

Community leaders cut the ribbon on the new clinic Thursday.