Health center at BHS re-opens this year; waiting list is a month long

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After one year of sitting empty and unused, the Belen High School school-based health center is full of students receiving vaccinations, physicals and treatment for illnesses.

The center opened its doors at the beginning of the school year to provide students from kindergarten through 12th grade with a part-time clinic.

Now that the health center is up and running, parents and students have told health center coordinator Crystal Connolly "they didn't realize how much it was needed until it was closed," she said.

The center is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Patients are seen on a walk-in basis or by appointment at no cost.

Students are provided with medical and behavioral health services, as well as health education and laboratory services. These are the same services students would receive through a primary care or walk-in clinic, Connolly said.

"A lot of students find it to be a very good thing that we have therapy and primary care, because just being in high school is very stressful for a lot of kids and a lot of them can come here and feel comfortable enough to be here," she said.

Patients can see either a certified family nurse practitioner, Therese Hidalgo, on Fridays, or a licensed marriage and family therapist, Sonia L. Humérez, on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The center opened its doors in August after being shut down for the 2011-12 school year.

It closed its doors due to a conflict between the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Because the health center was managed and funded by the Belen Consolidated Schools, the two confidentiality acts clashed in regards to patient privacy.

"HIPAA states that records should be kept private under a privacy act where the patient or guardian gives consent to release information," Connolly said. "Under FERPA you don't have that, so any parent could come and ask for the records."

HIPAA protects the privacy of an individual's health information. FERPA protects the privacy of student educational records, which can be accessed by parents until the child reaches 18 years old.

The center is now funded by the Central Region Education Cooperative and managed by the University of New Mexico's College of Nursing.

As the school year's progressed, the center has gone from treating one or two patients a day to being fully booked more than a month in advanced with appointments.

Having a health center nearby prevents parents from having to miss work to transport their student to their primary care provider, not to mention missed class time for students.

"We are school based, so kids don't have to miss out on a full day of class versus they miss like an hour or so of class," Connolly said.

It also aids teenage mothers in getting care for their babies when they come down with a bug without skipping school to do so, said Becky Rivera, the New Generation Learning Center's day care director.

"It gives me … and my staff that work in day care and my teen parents peace of mind that we have access to immediate medical care if we need it, and when working with babies under 2, that's very important," Rivera said.

One of the center's goals is to prove health centers are needed throughout the county, since this is the only one in the county, and receive additional funding to extend their hours, Connolly said.

For information about the center or to schedule an appointment, call 966-1386.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.