Salem High School students have access to primary health care right inside their high school building. North Shore Community Health Inc. provides these services at the Salem High School Teen Health Center. Founded in 1977, NSCHI’s mission is to provide high-quality, comprehensive primary care that is accessible, culturally and linguistically competent, and community-directed for all residents of Massachusetts’ North Shore and Cape Ann communities regardless of the ability to pay.
NSCHI staff Kacie Fyrberg, NP, and Jessica Teixeira, medical assistant, provide primary care to Salem High students. In addition to keeping kids healthy and in school, a key goal of the staff is to help students recognize their self-worth, both physically and emotionally. The “invincibility” factor of adolescence can lead to decision-making that puts their health, safety and overall well-being at risk. NSCHI staff works to help students realize that they are only given one body, and that body deserves respect by both themselves and others. Beyond this, they also work to provide an important layer to their foundation for a healthy future.
Having a school-based health center is critical to preventing teenagers from falling through the health care cracks. Adolescence is a time of self-discovery, role confusion, social awkwardness and moral challenge, which makes the need for significant support and guidance critical. By creating a safe and comfortable environment for teenagers to be themselves, NSCHI Salem High School Teen Health Center staff uses teachable moments to bridge that gap between youth and adulthood. Students are encouraged to take an active role in their health care by asking questions, making and keeping appointments, self-advocating, and following recommendations. Staff works to foster independence while recognizing the importance of asking for help. Students have various learning styles, and staff accommodates all patients by utilizing verbal, written, visual and hands-on methods when teaching them about health issues.
At NSCHI, all providers develop relationships with their patients and handle preventive care, diagnose diseases and illnesses, and help find the right specialists when needed. Primary care can handle the health problems that people have most of the time, and when necessary, providers can help patients get the right care at the right time and in the right place.
NSCHI works in close partnership with North Shore Medical Center to achieve the shared goal of providing the right care at the right time in the right place. Although emergency room visits should be used only for those very serious and immediate issues that primary care providers cannot address (such as broken bones, possible heart attacks, strokes, etc.), many people visit the emergency room when a visit to a primary care provider would be more appropriate (and less expensive). NSCHI’s Salem High School health center staff works hard to keep students out of the medical center emergency room.
In addition to providing primary care, NSCHI staff is active within the Salem High School community and works on a number of important health-related projects and events. The Salem High School Teen Health Center sponsors an annual teen health and wellness fair. This event has approximately 25 vendors from the Salem community and beyond, who address various adolescent health and safety topics. NSCHI staff also supports an Alateen group within the school. Alateen is a group of young Al-Anon members whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking. In addition, NSCHI staff created a teen pregnancy prevention video that was shown to the entire school.
The Salem High School Teen Health Center is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. on days school is in session. Other patients can visit the health center in Salem (47 Congress St., 978-744-8388) Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with evening hours on Monday and Tuesday until 7 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Peabody Family Health Center (89 Foster St., 978-532-4903) is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with evening hours on Monday and Thursday.
Margaret A. Brennan, MPH, is CEO of North Shore Community Health Inc. This is one in a regular series of columns from the Community Advisory Board for the Salem schools.