The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the health of low-income communities, particularly communities of color that have been marginalized by systemic racism and already suffer from inequitable distribution of resources.
The health crisis also has highlighted the critical role that schools play in providing
health services to students—and the significant deficits and disparities inherent in the current system.
Millions of children across the country rely on school-based health services for preventive and ongoing care, including mental health counseling and management of chronic illnesses such as asthma and diabetes.
When COVID-19 forced school buildings to close, causing a massive disruption in the delivery of health services, it exposed the extent to which schools function as an essential component of a comprehensive health system. Without access to school-based healthcare, many students, especially those in low-income communities of color, experienced unmet health care needs.
State & Federal Responses
In response to school building closures in 2020, state and federal agencies implemented policy and regulatory adjustments to ensure school-based health providers are permitted to deliver services remotely, and that payment systems, including Medicaid, are in place for reimbursement. Administrative, technological and regulatory barriers were promptly identified and addressed on a state-by-state basis.
In March 2021, Healthy School Campaign’s published a policy brief analyzing the effectiveness of these changes: “Providing Health Services During School Closures: Lessons Learned + Recommendations for Action.”
Drawing upon HSC’s work with states in the Healthy Students, Promising Futures Learning Collaborative, the brief calls attention to the current patchwork delivery structure causing healthcare access disparities both among and within states. Many of the policy changes implemented, especially around telemedicine and parental consent, helped ensure quicker responses and minimized gaps in access to school-based healthcare. But much more needs to be done to support schools in these efforts.
The brief also offers extensive policy recommendations that state and federal agencies can implement to better support school health services now — and in preparation for building closures due to future public health emergencies and natural disasters.