School-based Wellness Centre in Nanaimo breaks down barriers and helps adolescents access primary care

Student health is linked to educational success, but as many as 60 per cent of youth who are worried about a health issue do not consult a health care  provider and avoid going to a doctor’s office. This can be for many reasons, including limited  transportation and reluctance to discuss a problem  perceived as having a social stigma. 

With the opening of the new Wellness Centre at John Barsby Community School in Nanaimo, students in  grades eight through 12 can now access primary care in a confidential, safe and familiar setting, without  leaving the school grounds. 

The centre is a partnership between the Nanaimo  Division of Family Practice, Island Health, the Nanaimo  School District, and community agencies. Doctors and public health nurses have teamed up with school staff, social workers, child and youth mental health clinicians, child wellness therapists, and family support workers to deliver a wide range of services. 

“In this model, instead of adolescents having to  navigate our complicated system, we’re building services that wrap around them,” says Dr Sheila Findlay, Chair of the Nanaimo Division of Family Practice, Co-director of the centre, and one of eight doctors who provide family practice services there. 

While students can make an appointment for any issue  – from an injury to sexual health – the medical staff  and social worker bring together additional supports  for teens at risk and with vulnerabilities, such as those  facing complex social situations (e.g., poverty) or an  unstable family life. “This is hugely important for these  kids. They may have a severely dysfunctional family  relationship, be overwhelmed and in psycho-social  turmoil,” says Dr Findlay.

The doctor says the on-site services can help to make a young person’s journey easier and, in some cases,  even prevent them from going to the emergency room. “There is no question, prevention is really crucial in this age group,” she explains. “If we can see  adolescents when they are at the beginning of their challenges and connect them to the right supports, then we can create a cohort of kids who are going to  take life in stride in a different way.” 

Read more from the Vancouver Island Health Authority.