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$23 million gift to school-based health alliance to advance health equity from Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott
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$23 million gift to school-based health alliance to advance health equity from Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott

Recognizing the healthcare access crisis for America’s young people, Pivotal Ventures, a Melinda French Gates company, and MacKenzie Scott are donating a combined $23 million to a national nonprofit organization that works to expand healthcare services in schools, particularly those that serve families with the lowest incomes.

“We are grateful for MacKenzie Scott’s and Pivotal Venture’s confidence in our organization,” said Robert Boyd, President and CEO of the School-Based Health Alliance (SBHA), the national voice for school-based health care. “Students, regardless of circumstance, need to be healthy to learn. These investments acknowledge the urgency of addressing youth health today and will help us expand healthcare in schools through a mix of innovative services, training, and advocacy for policies that make sense for communities and families.”

Disparities in healthcare access were made much worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Children in low-income households are significantly more likely to have missed or delayed preventative health care appointments and also less likely to receive needed mental health services.

School-based health centers (SBHCs) provide healthcare where students already spend most of their time: in school. Schools and community health organizations partner to offer care that includes, but is not limited to, primary care, mental health, oral health, and vision services. These SBHCs improve both educational and health outcomes.

The School-Based Health Alliance works to open and expand health centers in schools that receive federal funds designed to improve education for low-income students. But the 3,900 SBHCs nationwide serve only a tiny portion of the more than 25,000 Title I schools. “The need for high-quality, equitable healthcare for our youth is greater than ever,” Boyd said.

With the funding from Pivotal Ventures, the School-Based Health Alliance will launch care coordination initiatives in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, and Miami. School-based health care coordination involves communicating and sharing information among all those concerned with a student’s health needs and care. That includes students themselves, parents or guardians, school staff, school-based health care providers, and other community-based healthcare professionals. Care coordination can help young people access comprehensive health services and address social factors such as housing, food security, and transportation.

SBHA will collaborate with workgroups in each city to identify and hire up to 42 care coordinators over several years. The workgroups will comprise community members and staff members of Federally Qualified Health Centers, community-based healthcare providers that receive federal funding to provide primary care in underserved areas, and their sponsored SBHCs. Each care coordinator will work in a school that primarily serves students from families that have low incomes. They will receive comprehensive training, mentoring, and coaching throughout the initiative.

“Pivotal’s significant investment in school-based health care coordination will help young people access the comprehensive care and support that they need to thrive,” Boyd said.

SBHA will work with national partners to design and implement the School-Based Health Care Coordinator Training Program. The initiative also will work to enact policies to sustain the care coordinator role via Medicaid reimbursement.

“Better support for young people’s mental health and wellbeing means meeting them where they are,” said Sara Bathum, Pivotal Ventures Senior Manager of the Adolescent Mental Health strategy. “School-Based Health Alliance’s unique approach embeds mental health resources for youth and families within existing centers of care, making it easier to access trusted, culturally responsive support. We are proud to partner with them in this important effort in these communities and look forward to seeing their impact.”

Scott’s award is the largest unrestricted gift in SBHA’s 28-year history. The funding will help SBHA offer expertise to organizations seeking to open or improve SBHCs, drive innovation in program delivery and design, measure the impact of SBHCs, and advocate for policy change. SBHA’s recent initiatives include addressing youth mental health, developing practical clinical tools and competencies that get to the root causes of poor health among youth, and addressing food insecurity.

“MacKenzie Scott’s gift will allow SBHA to continue to expand our youth programs, increase the number of school-based health centers throughout the country, and improve the quality of services they offer for years to come,” Boyd said.

Since 1995, the School-Based Health Alliance (SBHA), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, has supported and advocated for high-quality healthcare in schools for the nation’s most vulnerable children. Working at the intersection of healthcare and education, SBHA is recognized as a leader in the field and a source of information on best practices by philanthropic, federal, state, and local partners and policymakers.

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