What is a School-Based Health Center (SBHC)?

School-Based Health Care in Washington

School-based health care can be provided in any number of different ways, depending on the needs and resources of a community and school district. With partners, we developed a snapshot of School-Based Health Care in Washington to provide a high-level view of how school health services, school-based health services, and school-based health centers serve our students in Washington state.

School nurses, counselors, social workers and psychologists; licensed behavioral health providers; health outreach services; and school-based health centers may all work together in one school or school district, collaborating to provide critical services and support to students.

See this one-pager about the collaboration between school nurses and school-based health centers in Washington.

What is a School-Based Health Center (SBHC)?

Download these SBHC FAQs

A SBHC is a student-focused health center located in or adjacent to a school where students can receive integrated medical, mental health, and other healthcare services such as dental care.

How are SBHCs operated and funded?

Collaboration & management. SBHCs are a collaboration between the community, the school, and a healthcare sponsor. The healthcare sponsor can be, for example, a community health center, hospital or healthcare system, public health department, or tribal program. The sponsor staffs and manages operations of the SBHC.

Funding. SBHCs may be funded through a mix of public funding, private donations, the community benefit contribution of healthcare sponsors, public and private insurance billing, and in-kind support from school districts and schools.

Staffing.  SBHCs are staffed according to school community needs and resources.  SBHCs typically include at minimum a primary care provider, mental healthcare provider, and a clinic coordinator. Dental and other health professionals may also provide services at the SBHC.

Hours of operation. SBHCs are open during the school day to serve students where they already spend much of their time–at school. Ideally a SBHC has a consistent presence in the school, open for as many days of the week as students need and resources allow. Some SBHCs are also open outside of school hours to serve families, school staff, or community members.

Insurance enrollment & coordination of care.  SBHCs help students and families enroll in insurance and connect with a primary care provider and other specialty providers as needed.  SBHCs coordinate care with other community service providers to ensure efficient and effective care.

Collaboration with school community. SBHCs are integrated within the school community to optimize student and school-wide wellness.  The SBHC care team collaborates with students, families, teachers, the school nurse, counselors, other staff and school leadership to support student development and academic success.

What services do SBHCs provide?

From primary to integrated care.  SBHCs provide comprehensive primary medical care that may include preventive well-child care, health screening and education, sports physicals, immunizations, management of chronic medical conditions, treatment of illness or injury, laboratory services, prescription of medication, reproductive health services, and referrals. Ideally SBHCs offer an integrated model of primary medical care and mental health counseling to address the needs of the whole child. SBHCs may also include dental or vision care, substance abuse services, nutrition counseling, and school-wide health education.  Some SBHC services may be provided through mobile or telehealth programs.

Complementary care to school nurse services.  SBHCs provide physical, mental, dental and other health services beyond the scope of the school nurse, supporting and complementing—not replacing—the school nurse role in student health.  SBHC providers and the school nurse work collaboratively to improve student health and academic outcomes.

Prevention & wellness. SBHCs are a resource for prevention, wellness, and health promotion throughout the school community.

Who is served by SBHCs?

School locations.  SBHCs are typically located in schools where students have socioeconomic, geographic, or other barriers to accessing healthcare in the community. A SBHC may be in any school where a need for services and resources are identified.

Eligibility for services.  SBHC services are available to all students in the school. In some cases, SBHCs also serve students from other schools in the district, families of students, school staff, or community members.

Enrollment and consent.  Students must be enrolled by their families to receive the full range of services provided by the SBHC.  Every effort is made to involve students’ families in their care.  Students not enrolled in the SBHC by their families may access confidential reproductive or behavioral health services, if available in the SBHC, according to Washington state’s minor consent laws as they could with any other healthcare provider in the community.