Editor’s note: Sofia Mendez is a reporter with Community News Service, a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.

Construction is expected to start soon on an enlarged health care center on the Winooski schools campus that would significantly expand the clinic and include a dental suite.

Vermont’s congressional delegation has pushed for $614,000 in federal funding in a coming federal spending bill. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., touted the addition of dental care capacity in the clinic.

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“This funding will expand the successful Winooski School District’s School-Based Health Center to serve even more students and include a dental suite. This project will ensure more young people have access to health care without missing classes and without their parents missing work,” Sanders wrote in a funding request to the Senate Appropriations Committee last summer.

The money would come from the 2022 fiscal year appropriations bill now working its way through Congress, according to Sanders’ congressional spending disclosure site.

The center is the brainchild of Winooski school nurse Liz Parris, who started the program in September 2017. It took a school year of planning, community engagement and grant-funding before the health center opened up, Parris said.

She noticed many barriers kids faced when seeking health care. Even before the pandemic-related problems were added to the mix, kids in need of health care would have to lose significant class time in order to get it, Parris said.

“Kids were leaving school for medical appointments and then not coming back,” Parris said.

The center, as it stands now, has been offering services for kids and their families through the pandemic. Right now, it is doing a lot of testing.

“Our providers who are here three days a week are working with the families to Covid test (the kids) here on-site,” Parris said. “We are getting rid of the middleman.”

Dr. Sherry Larose, a provider from Community Health Centers of Burlington who works at the Winooski center once a week, said Covid-19 testing is more efficient in school.

“I just came back from maternity leave and today was my first day able to do Covid testing,” Larose said. “I was there for a little over an hour, and I was able to test four kids that maybe wouldn’t have been able to get the testing so quickly.”

The services provided increase accessibility for non-English speaking families who would otherwise struggle to find health care outside the school system, Larose said.

The expansion promises a new, more spacious extension with a dental suite. Construction will start within the coming months, said Emily Hecker, communications director for the Winooski School District.

Those working at the center hope for a future in which there is a provider on-site every day rather than the current three times a week. They also will need a dental health provider to work on-site once the installation opens.

Larose said she was happy that she could personally facilitate primary care for kids that need it. She also said that with the expansion, there is a possibility for the center in the school to provide primary care for students.

The managers of the center hope to open up the new and improved health center expansion to the public, Hecker said.

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