This fall, students at three high schools in Sooke School District (SD62) will have access to a team of caring professionals who will address each and every student’s physical, sexual and emotional health, in a warm welcoming place where every door is the right door.
The new program, a partnership between Island Health, SD62 and the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), will enhance access to primary care services – right on campus – resulting in improved health care for youth.
“Research shows that youth who have health concerns don’t perform as well in school as they might otherwise. And, that students who don’t perform well in school may have more health issues later in life,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “Bringing health services into the school helps support timely access to services in the hope that youth will be as healthy as possible, not only while they are in school, but over their lifetime.”
Starting September 9 at Belmont Secondary School, there will be a school-based wellness centre staffed by two full-time public health nurses, and a part-time physician, two nurse practitioners and mental health and substance use counsellors from Island Health and MCFD.
All Western Communities youth, regardless of what school they attend or whether or not they have a family doctor, will find health services for mental, sexual and physical health, as well as health promotion strategies. The health centre will be a safe place where students are assessed, treated and if necessary, referred to other programs or services as needed.
In addition, primary care services will also be offered at Edward Milne and Royal Bay Secondary Schools, where a doctor will be on site half a day a week starting in mid-September.
“Quality education means providing students with opportunities, not only academically but emotionally. That's exactly what these wellness centres will help us do,” said Jim Cambridge, Superintendent of SD62. “We know youth have a lot of questions about their physical and mental health. These wellness centres will empower students to talk about their well-being and seek professional guidance in the place they are very comfortable in, their school.”
Too often health care, education and family services operate in different arenas, but youth need all three to be healthy, said Lynn Guengerich, a Nurse Practitioner at Island Health.
“By working together, our goal is to create a comfortable safe place for students to come in and talk to a professional about their worries and concerns,” she said. “All discussions will be confidential and we will do our best to meet their needs there, or refer them to another professional if needed.”
This new initiative is a shining example of creative, committed collaboration, said Kathy Easton, Island Health’s Public Health Manager.
“This partnership began several years ago when SD62 started construction of its new Belmont school, which included the Neighbourhood Learning Centre where the Wellness Centre is located,” she said. “Together, we have realigned the health care system to better meet the needs of youth by moving key people and programs to where students can access them all more easily.”
Island Health will lease space for a reasonable rate. The Ministry of Health has provided additional physician hours and MCFD and Island Health will work alongside each other to provide mental health and substance use counselling.
Lajah Warren attends Edward Milne Secondary School, and has been actively involved in the planning process.
“This is about empowering youth to take charge of our own health and wellness through better access,” Warren said. “An individual’s well-being can’t be defined by another, but through the help of others, we are able to build our own definition of wellness.”
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