Chicago’s students frequently go without medical treatment due to challenges their families face in securing comprehensive health care. Language barriers, lack of insurance, transportation issues, precarious housing and employment situations, and the intricacies of navigating a complex healthcare system are among the many obstacles that can stand between a student and connection to a medical home.
To ensure that Chicago public school students could gain access to comprehensive care, without concern for the student’s ability to pay, Polk Bros. Foundation launched a special initiative to support school-based health centers in the mid-1990s. In this model, a medical provider, usually a Federally Qualified Health Center or hospital, partners with a school to provide on-site, confidential, culturally competent, and high-quality care to the students. Students are able to access primary care, mental health services and counseling, family outreach, chronic illness management and often dental and vision care at the very location where they spend most of their day: school.
In 1999, the Foundation expanded the initiative by supporting four new partnerships, bolstered by CPS investment. The Illinois Coalition of School Health Centers provided technical assistance, and the Foundation convened grantees periodically to share advice and best practices.
During 2000-2006, the Foundation granted $1.6 million through its School-Based Health Center Initiative, supporting six health centers that served nearly 4,000 students across the city. At the conclusion of the initiative, funding of school-based health centers was integrated and expanded into the Foundation’s regular grantmaking, which granted $635,000 in 2014 to six medical providers staffing 13 school-based health centers. These health centers serve nearly 7,000 Chicago public school students, providing them a friendly place to get a flu shot, have an annual physical, speak to a mental health counselor, or get assistance with managing a chronic illness.