Maine lawmakers will take up a bill in the next legislative session to unwind the impacts of a last-minute state budget deal that slashed funding unexpectedly to more than a dozen school-based student health centers.

The proposal by Rep. Jim Handy, D-Lewiston, would restore 15 school-based health clinics that lost funding last July.

State Rep. Jim Handy (Sun Journal file photo)

Thousands of students are served in the health care centers, which provide dental and medical care, chronic illness management for diseases such as diabetes and asthma, counseling services for suicide prevention and drug and alcohol prevention services, routine physical exams and immunizations, prescriptions and laboratory testing.

Educators say having the services on-site helps students without access to a doctor, and allows students to get medical care without missing too much class time or their parents having to miss work.

The direct cuts to the health centers last July were the result of the final state budget redirecting $10 million over two years from the Fund for a Healthy Maine to maintain reimbursement rates for primary care physicians under MaineCare, the state’s version of the federal Medicaid program.

The cuts have meant dropping services at some of the centers, and forcing school districts to use their local school budgets to make up for the lost state funding.


In Lewiston and Auburn, the four school-based health centers have dropped medical care services to salvage mental health counseling services. In addition, the Lewiston School Department is providing its own funding to pay for one nurse practitioner to work at multiple schools, said Joan Churchill, chief executive officer of St. Mary’s Hospital’s community clinical services, which runs the centers. They lost a $200,000 contract, which makes up one-third to one-half of the centers’ budgets.

“(We) cannot do full (school-based health center) model but this is much better than nothing,” Churchill said.

In Portland, the cuts killed $191,000 out of a $330,000 budget for four health centers at Portland, Casco Bay and Deering high schools and at King Middle School that serve almost 1,000 students.

To fill the gap, the school board voted to allocate $145,000 to Greater Portland Health, which runs the centers. The center plans to make up the rest of the gap with efficiencies and fundraising, Superintendent Xavier Botana said.

The district drew those funds from additional education funding – $2.7 million for Portland – that was also in the state budget agreement, which provided an extra $162 million statewide over two years.

In Calais, the health care center used by 80 percent of middle and high school students lost $46,200.


Calais School District Superintendent Ron Jenkins said he’s had to “move some numbers around” to keep the center operating this year – but it’s not clear just yet whether he’ll get to the end of the year, financially.

“We are still short a third, or about half, of what we need to replace the $46,000,” he said. “I’m relatively confident we will find it for this year. We simply decided we’re going to keep everything we had as intact as possible.”

But if the funding isn’t restored, that will have to change, he said. The first cut will probably be to counseling services, he said.

“We will do whatever we can to keep the program,” he said. “You never miss anything until it’s gone.”

Lawmakers will take up Handy’s bill in the new session, which will get down to business in January.

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