School-based Health Centers (SBHC), an important source of primary, dental and mental healthcare for New York students, are officially open again after a mandated shutdown due to COVID-19.

The reopening, which happened late March 2021, is largely thanks to the advocacy of the New York State Dental Association (NYSDA), the New York School Based Health Alliance and the Community Healthcare Association of New York. The program had been closed since March 2020, leaving children who rely on the services without critical dental care and screenings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the closure, SBHCs used teledentistry to try to mitigate emergency department visits for oral-health related concerns.

The more than 300 SBHCs statewide serve urban, suburban and rural children in grades Pre-K through 12. By meeting children where they already are — at school — the State-funded program provides important, accessible care.

“The residual effects of not meeting the oral health needs of children during the pandemic will have a lasting impact,” said Mark Feldman, executive director of NYSDA. “We are thankful the [New York State Department of Health] has issued new guidance to allow School-based Health Centers to regularly see patients once again.”

A study published in the Journal of School Health found that students with access to an SBHC were significantly less likely to be sent home during the day, increasing student “seat time,” or learning. A literature review noted that SBHCs are generally associated with “decreased healthcare disparities among students, accelerated treatment and increased school attendance.”

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