State Cuts Funding for Blue Devil Health Center

By Lura Jackson

 

In the midst of celebrating additional revenue being granted to public schools from the state, schools across Maine were shocked last week when it was announced that the Department of Health and Human Services would be cutting funding for student health centers. In Calais, the Blue Devil Health Center will be losing all $46,200 of its state funding, a situation that could jeopardize its existence in the future.

“Frustration, disappointment, disbelief,” summarized Superintendent Ron Jenkins of his reaction to the news. Jenkins explained that earlier this year, in April, a contract was signed that stated the school would be receiving its full allotment from the state. Jenkins said that, with no apparent reason to set aside any additional budget for the clinic, the budget was finalized and passed by the city. 

When the state budget passed on July 4th, Calais received approximately $150,000 from the state. However, Jenkins said, he had already been anticipating receiving about $55,000 of that, and as such it was appropriated to finish the HVAC system at the elementary school and to purchase new bleachers for the high school. Additionally, half of the additional funds, or about $75,000, are stipulated by the state to be returned to the city to reduce taxes. Jenkins said that there is a second provision that may enable a way around that to allow the school to access the extra funds and cover the cost of the clinic for the coming year.

“There’s a reasonable possibility we can keep it going this year,” said Jenkins. “I’m far more worried about subsequent years.” Jenkins said that the clinic provides medical, psychological, and dental care along with consultation for suicide prevention, drugs and alcohol prevention, and sexual education. 

Ann Skriletz, who helps to coordinate the Blue Devil Health Center, knows exactly how important the center is. Skriletz explained that ten percent of students in the school system do not have health insurance, or they have catastrophic-only health insurance, meaning they have no opportunity to receive preventative care. “Ultimately, these kids will end up in the ER where they cannot be refused care, unless we are there to help them,” said Skriletz.

State funding is a necessary component that enables the clinic to continue functioning, Skriletz explained. For students that have Mainecare and receive treatment at the facility, Mainecare reimburses the clinic $39 for a comprehensive visit. The full cost of a visit, however, is $95, so the clinic is at a constant deficit. The situation is further worsened by the frequent failure of private insurance companies to pay the clinic.

The clinic is widely used by students. “We have eighty percent of the students enrolled in the center, and logged 660 visits for counseling, medical care, vaccinations and dental,” said Skriletz, noting that the figure does not count the visits to the school nurse or to receive daily medications. 

“For all the reasons Ann listed as examples, I certainly believe that this is necessary for our local area,” said state senator Joyce Maker after communicating with Skriletz herself. “I have been up and talked with the students before and they have informed me how important this is for them.  I hope that we can work this out or at least find funding for it to continue this important service to our students.”

For Superintendent Jenkins, the move seems like a deliberate attempt to close the school health centers altogether. Jenkins said that the rapidity with which the decision was made and the totality of the loss of funding imply that there is a “hidden agenda” to force their closure, particularly since the state is at an $11 million surplus. “I don’t think everybody understands the good they do in rural areas,” said Jenkins.