Dr. Debra Andree is a member of the National FQHC Advisory Board

While all youth transition from pediatric to adult health care, this period can be especially challenging for young adults with disabilities. Adolescents with disabilities may have additional concerns about accessibility, communication and increasing responsibility for self-care. For new adults who are away from home and their families or trusted providers, getting treatment can be truly scary. That’s why a partner who knows the needs of this community is so important.

At Community Health Centers, Inc. located in Central Florida, we found an innovative way to help students at a local college access care at a time when they may be facing these challenges. One of our clinics is located within walking distance of the campus, which educates students with learning disabilities. CHC partnered with the college and now serves as the students’ medical home while they are at school.

The clinic offers the students any needed services while they’re away at college, including primary care, behavioral health plus pharmacy, vision and dental. We also offer seminars on wellness topics such as hygiene, wellness and stress management.

An opportunity to deliver personalized support

Partnering with the college to offer health care services is a natural fit for CHC. Like other health centers, we serve everyone. Caring for students helps us live out our mission of providing compassionate health care services to the diverse communities of Central Florida while focusing on overcoming economic, cultural and geographic barriers.

We are sensitive to students’ wishes and understand that there are different learning styles. We work to give them information in a way that is helpful and services that are comfortable while they are away from home.  This is also reassuring to their loved ones who know that they are receiving accessible, quality care.

The clinic has a navigator on staff to assist students with any requirements, such as refilling medications.  The navigator also works with the campus staff to learn about any issues that need addressing within the larger student body and also notes how we can improve systems or provide educational opportunities or resources all while maintaining Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) compliance.

We have also educated our providers on how to best work with patients with differing abilities. In some cases, providers can receive additional assistance and training to help a student facing a particular health issue.

Building a strong partnership and helping the community

One reason this partnership has worked so well is that we used our experience to expand based on what we learned about the college students’ preferences as the program matured. We continuously collaborate with the college, meeting regularly to talk about what is going well, solve problems and seize on new opportunities. It helps to keep our goal in sight — to help these scholars stay as healthy as possible so they can do their best academic work.

The students have been our greatest teachers during the process. We now know that can scale ideas like this to other areas, not just for students with disabilities, but to others who we may be able to serve that we didn’t recognize.

There are many challenges to accessing health care, but there are endless organizations and different people FQHCs can partner with to help break down barriers. Being accessible to someone, no matter the need, can set that person up for success which ultimately sets up our communities for success.

To learn more about opportunities to improve primary care for people with disabilities, read the National FQHC Advisory Board's latest issue brief.  

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