After several years of discussion, the Hobbs school board and school officials are close to establishing a school-based health clinic on the high school campus. HMS Superintendent TJ Parks spoke to the board about the planned health facility at its regular meeting on Aug. 15. He said the district is working with a company that provides school-based health care.
When and if the clinic comes to fruition, it will provide a wide variety of health services, including both physical and mental health services.
For example, students who experience an ear ache or a minor injury at school could go to the health clinic, receive care and return to class instead of going home. Teaching and other staff could also use the facility when they need care.
It also allows the clinic to provide other health services deemed controversial by many in the community.
A serious issue
Teen pregnancy has been a serious issue in New Mexico and in Lea County for some time, Phoebe Spencer, former president of the MyPower, Inc. board, said.
“At one time, New Mexico had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation and Lea County had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the state,” Spencer said.
MyPower, Inc., an organization dedicated to empowering young girls and young women, was founded in Lea County in 2009 to help address the county’s alarming teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases rates. For years, Lea County ranked No. 1 in both the 15-17 year old and 15-19 year old teen birth categories in New Mexico, according to Elaine Sena, MyPower, Inc. executive director.
New Mexico has consistently moved between the rankings of first and third nationally, and as of 2016 New Mexico ranks No. 4 in teen birth rates in the U.S. Sena said recent New Mexico teen pregnancy statistics are encouraging for Lea County, but there is still more that needs to be done.
“Our work, along with the work of other organizations in the county, has brought the teen birth rate down 60 percent from what it was in 2009. It’s been a community effort, but we would like to bring it down still more,” she said. “I believe a school-based health clinic will help do that.”
According to the New Mexico Department of Health, since 2010 the teen birth rate in the state for 15-19 year olds has declined by 35.6 to about 34.6 out of every 1,000 teen girls in the population giving birth in 2015, which is close to the national decline of 36.
The female population aged 15-19 in New Mexico is 58 percent Hispanic, and among the teens giving birth, 70 percent were Hispanic.
In 2005, 88.6 in every 1,000 Lea County teenage girls were mothers.
In 2015, Lea ranked third in New Mexico with 68.4 per 1,000 15-19 year old girls in its population giving birth. That is a rate of one out of every 14.6 teenage girls.
Luna County was No. 1 with 73.9, Sierra in second with 73.5 and Eddy County came in fourth, behind Lea, with 65.6.
In 2016, 15-19 year old girls in New Mexico giving birth per 1,000 was around 29.4 and in Lea County it was around 50.9 per 1,000 teen girls giving birth, according to statistics from MyPower, Inc. That equates to one out of around 20 teen girls.
Nationally, teen birth rates are at their lowest levels since the National Center for Health Statistics began tracking teenage child-bearing in the 1940s. While still high, New Mexico also reached an historic low for teen births in recent years, according to the New Mexico Health Department.
Sexually transmitted diseases for teens in Lea County are below the state rate as well, but are still at a high number. New Mexico ranked No. 4 in the nation for Chlamydia in 2015. Around 554.3 cases per 100,000 were reported in 2015 in Lea County, ranking 12th of 33 counties in New Mexico, according to the New Mexico Health Department. Gonorrhea cases in New Mexico increased 13 percent since 2014 to 119.3 cases per 100,000 in 2015.
Although the consensus of members of the school board seemed to be supportive of the school-based health clinic, they acknowledged that some people in the community may be concerned because the care clients receive in those clinics is rendered without the consent of or notifying parents.
“The care students receive must be absolutely confidential,” Parks said. “That’s what federal law requires.”
The confidentiality rule may be particularly troubling to parents whose children receive reproductive information and devices or prescriptions that prevent pregnancy.
“We need to do everything we can to keep babies from having babies. We are in loco parentis and we need to step up to that responsibility,” Parks said.
The elephant in the room With these concerns in mind, school board members have even discussed opening clinics at the district’s middle schools. It’s an option many may not wish to consider, but it is a sign of the times board members said.
“The time comes when you have to recognize there’s an elephant in the room and do something about it,” said Gary Eidson, board president.
At the meeting, board members Peggy Appleton and Pat Jones expressed support for the school-based health clinic. Appleton thought having clinics at the middle schools might also be a good idea.
“None us like it, but we have to start younger and younger with lots of things,” Appleton said.
Parks said, “This is the time and this is the place to do this.” Whether clinics will happen in the middle schools is a decision yet to be made by the district, and, for now, a clinic at the high school is likely enough to test how the system is going to work.
Where would it go?
Parks said during the meeting that while a construction company has not been chosen. Once it has and the board decides the school will have a health center, a likely spot has been earmarked.
“We would like to have the (Construction) company install a portable building in the area between Tydings Auditorium and the 200 wing of the high school building.,” Parks said. He added that the company would furnish the building and pay for it to be placed in that location. Electricity and plumbing are already available at that site.
“If we could get the clinic in place from October or November until school is out, we could have several months of data to help us decide whether the community needs a school-based health clinic.” he said.