Prescriptions, pregnancy tests and prophylactics are now only a classroom away for John Barsby Secondary School students.
John Barsby Wellness Centre, the first of its kind in a Nanaimo school, marked its official opening Friday, with school and medical professionals touting it as a way to build relationships and provide youth with safe and convenient access to care.
The new medical centre is meant to be casual and welcoming. Top 40 hits play in the background and there’s a basketful of apples for students to grab on the way to class or tea for those who want to have a cup in the lounge. Condoms are also available.
Here students can see doctors for antibiotics, get sexual health support like counseling or pregnancy testing, or hang out with staff. Eventually it’s hoped the centre can do more around prevention and education.
The centre, the culmination of work by 16 stakeholders and organizations, opened in September and there have been more than 300 visits.
That students already feel comfortable with the service is considered a success by Dr. Wilma Arruda, Island Health’s medical director of pediatric services, who got the project going.
“That’s huge that it’s already got that sense within the school it’s an OK place to go and that you can actually receive help and that it’s non judgmental and your parents don’t have to know,” said Arruda.
The service is meant to break down barriers to health care. A student can go in for a sore knee and end up discussing mental health.
Often a family doctor might be perceived as a barrier if the parents go and students want confidentiality, or there’s transportation – getting from school to a clinic, according to Dr. Sheila Findlay, chairwoman of the Nanaimo Division of Family Practice board and co-director of the centre, who notes a huge number of students also don’t have a family doctor.
Findlay sees the school-based service not only increasing access, but allowing time to build relationships with youth.
“In working alongside other service providers, nursing, social work, mental health and our colleagues within John Barsby school itself, we provide excellence of care to youth who have the most barriers to accessing health care in more traditional clinical settings,” she said.
Student Sydney Deimert, 17, John Barsby’s youth voice for the project, said the centre has helped break down barriers and fears of being judged. She believes this level of care should be available to all students in Nanaimo.