Launching the School Health Services National Quality Initiative

By Hayley Lofink, Director of Research and Evaluation, School-Based Health Alliance, and Erin Ashe, Program Manager, School-Based Health Alliance

NQI blog

In September 2014, the School-Based Health Alliance and the Center for School Mental Health were jointly awarded a four-year cooperative agreement from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau. The goal of this cooperative agreement is to grow the number of school-based health centers (SBHCs) and comprehensive school mental health programs (CSMHPs) and improve the quality of their services.

To tackle these lofty goals, our two organizations launched the School Health Services National Quality Initiative (NQI). This initiative has two purposes:

One: Develop a set of standardized national performance measures for SBHCs and encourage the field to voluntarily adopt and report on these measures

This initiative is an opportunity to use data to tell compelling stories about SBHCs. For decades, SBHCs have reported characteristics of their health centers—such as demographics, staffing, services, policies, utilization, financing, prevention activities, and clinical policies—through the National Census of SBHCs. We know quite a bit, in fact, about the “what” and “how” of SBHCs, just not the “how well.”

Until now, the school-based health care field has never had a mechanism for reporting standardized performance measurement data at the national level. If we – national, state and local partners — could accomplish this together with SBHCs, the impact would be significant. SBHCs would be able to compare themselves at local, state, and national levels, and assess their strengths and areas for improvement. Having uniform performance data would be a powerful tool for advocating for the SBHC model.

Two: Expand the number and improve the sustainability of SBHCs

As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve to generate better outcomes at a lower cost, SBHCs must adopt new strategies to keep pace. SBHCs are challenged to operate as businesses—with clinical efficiency, coding and billing savviness, and financial practicality. This evolution can sometimes feel as if it conflicts with the mission of SBHCs dedicated to providing care that extends well beyond the traditional tools of medicine.

The NQI is an opportunity to explore strategies that increase SBHC sustainability and expansion while continuing to provide important, high-quality services that tackle the root causes of poor health and education outcomes among children and adolescents.

Are you interested in learning more about this work? During the School-Based Health Alliance’s upcoming 2015 National School-Based Health Care Convention in Austin, we will host a plenary session dedicated to discussing the School Health Services National Quality Initiative and SBHC performance measures. The session, “SBHCs in the Era of Accountability – How Documenting our Work Can Transform the Field,” will be held Wednesday, June 17, from 3:15 – 4:30 PM. We hope to see you there!

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