Confidentiality in school health centers
What services can underage students consent to on their own?
After Glenwood Springs High School opened a school health center this fall, questions and concerns began to swirl.
Run by Mountain Family Health Centers, it offers a three-legged treatment venue within the school walls to provide limited dental, behavioral and mental care. The new center is already the fourth in the Roaring Fork School District and the fifth operated by Mountain Family. Yet its openness has raised questions from some community members, including about personal consent to care.
“Due to the logistical challenges of opening and expanding school health centers during the pandemic, we heard some confusion about what services are offered, when they are available, and how to navigate the enrollment processes” , said the head of the Roaring Fork school district. and Anna Cole Family Services.
School health centers are governed by health care regulations, not school district policies. The district school board updated a policy in October called “Administering Medication to Students,” which requires written consent from the legal guardian before any medication can be administered. Mountain Family is a separate entity from the schools in which they operate, exempting them from these rules and opening the door to confidential care under federal and state laws.
“We are independent and subject to regulations that govern health care, not schools,” said Marija Weeden, COO of Mountain Family Health Centers.
Many drugs and treatments are banned for minor confidentiality reasons, but some are still available.
Colorado law allows people of any age to provide consent with full HIPAA privacy protection for contraception and prenatal, childbirth, and postnatal care.
Victims of sexual assault and other sexual offenses can give consent, but the treating physician must make “reasonable effort” to notify the guardian.
Non-emancipated minors can also self-consent to the treatment, diagnosis and prevention of sexually transmitted infections and the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. Emancipated or legally married minors over the age of 14 may provide consent for all services provided by Mountain Family.
Minors over the age of 11 may provide consent for behavioral health treatment at Mountain Family facilities.
Counseling services are available for a variety of needs, but parental notification is legally required once it becomes medical treatment.
Weeden also said these conversations lead to the patient being referred to community resources outside of Mountain Family. In the case of gender-affirming treatment, patients are referred to places like the TRUE Center for Gender Diversity at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
“We are actively working to build consistency, communication and streamline service access,” Cole said. “Mountain Family is our federally licensed regional health center; they share our commitment to ensuring children and families have access to the community resources and services they need to succeed in school.
Weeden requested that concerns about services provided and confidentiality at school health centers be directed to Connie Ruiz at [email protected].