Betsy Kunz, LCSW, (left) and Lynn Peckham, APRN, provide medical and mental health services at the Mauro-Sheridan School-Based Health Center. YNHH opened its first center in 1994 at Hillhouse High School in New Haven; other hospital-operated centers are at Barnard Environmental Magnet School, Hill Regional Career High School and Troup School in New Haven; and Mary T. Murphy Elementary, Walsh Intermediate and Branford High School in Branford.

On Aug. 31, staff with the School-Based Health Center at New Haven's Mauro-Sheridan Interdistrict Magnet School were preparing for more than 500 students who would arrive the next day.

Liz Vargas, administrative associate, Betsy Kunz, LCSW, and Lynn Peckham, APRN, knew that in addition to backpacks full of school supplies, some students would bring with them physical, social and emotional issues. Their first-day preparations included reviewing every student's enrollment packet.

They are among more than 20 Yale New Haven Hospital employees working at school-based health centers (SBHCs) at five New Haven and three Branford schools. These YNHH satellite clinics are staffed by hospital advanced practice nurse practitioners and social workers with expertise in child/adolescent health. Four physicians serve as medical directors.

Students may access SBHC services with a parent's permission. Referrals can be made by students themselves, parents/guardians, teachers, administrators, SBHC staff and community providers.

"The school-based health centers are designed to make it easy and convenient for students to receive comprehensive medical and mental health services," said Carla Giles, YNHH ambulatory manager. "They do not replace the school nurse or a child's pediatrician, but augment their care, by providing services in school, on the spot, so children can focus on learning."

Peckham has worked in SBHCs for nearly 30 years, evaluating and treating minor injuries and illnesses, prescribing and dispensing medications, providing physicals and immunizations and offering education and guidance for chronic health problems.

Over the years, she has seen an increase in asthma and childhood obesity, which can lead to later health problems. SBHC staff work closely with families, so Peckham can educate students and their families about healthy eating, exercise and other preventive measures.

"It's nice to be able to identify kids who might have current or future health issues, get the parents on board and refer the child to a specialist if needed," she said.

Kunz and other SBHC social workers can also work with families. They provide confidential individual, group and family counseling for depression, anxiety, hyperactivity and other mental health issues.

"We teach kids how to be mindful of their thoughts and feelings, develop coping mechanisms and learn to communicate and ask for help," Kunz said. "We want them to develop these skills early and use them throughout their lives."

Numbers show that Yale New Haven's SBHCs are helping to improve access to care; during fiscal year 2015 the centers had 12,051 visits. "There's such a need here, and everywhere, for the kinds of services we provide," Kunz said.