When your school is a health center. How clinics offer lifeline for uninsured kids

Dental hygienist Bruce Fang sat waiting in blue scrubs for the day’s patients before a few students ambled into the room, one at a time, ready for their appointments. Some were chatty once in the chair, others squirmed. But 7-year-old Stephanie Rojas sat still.

Photo by Paul Kitagaki, Jr.

“Do you remember when you lost that tooth right there?” Fang asks. Silence falls over the room. “A long time ago,” Rojas says in a mumbled reply.

Fang notes nothing new in the outlook — just the one tooth that’s missing. He puts her down for a visit with a specialist to further assess her dental needs. Rojas is back in class in less than 30 minutes.

For the past two years, improvised clinics like this one have served students of Northwood Elementary and other schools in the Twin Rivers School District of Sacramento, part of the steady growth in school-based health centers that provide access to routine and preventive care for underserved populations.

“We targeted those schools where there are high rates of free school lunch programs — that means they’re all qualified for Medi-Cal whether they’re signed up or not,” said Debra Payne, who oversees the oral health programs for Sacramento County. “We’re bringing those services to the schools where the kids already are.”

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