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King County Opens Three School-Based Health Centers Outside Seattle

Ashley Gross
King County Executive Dow Constantine speaks with Sarah Burdell, who provides counseling to students at Highland Middle School

Seattle has 25 clinics in public schools to serve the health needs of students. Now King County is using dollars from the Best Starts for Kids levy, which voters approved in 2015, to open school-based health centers outside the city.

One of them is at Highland Middle School in the Bellevue School District. The clinic is run as a partnership between two nonprofits – International Community Health Services and Youth Eastside Services. ICHS provides a nurse practitioner who offers everything from immunizations to sports physicals.

Youth Eastside Services offers a behavioral health counselor, Sarah Burdell. This school has a large immigrant population – 46 percent of students speak a first language other than English. Burdell said many of the issues the kids want to talk about relate to that transition.

Credit Ashley Gross / KNKX
A mobile dental clinic provides oral health care to the students at Highland Middle School.

“They are missing their extended families that they don’t have access to, so they’re grieving that,” she said.

David Downing, chief operating officer with Youth Eastside Services, said there are a lot of kids in East King County communities who are struggling emotionally.

“The levels of anxiety, depression and stress that are actually happening here on the East Side – it’s above the normal to what you’re seeing in other parts of the county,” Downing said. “We have lost three kids actually to suicide in the last three weeks over here.”

Downing declined to provide much detail about the suicides out of concern for the families. None of the students who died attended Highland Middle School, Burdell said.

King County also recently opened school-based clinics on Vashon Island and in Renton.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.