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Teen clinic plan draws supporters, opponents

School Board opts to seek more input

The Del Norte County Unified School District Board heard strong opinions for and against a proposal for a new teen health clinic Thursday evening.

Board members decided they want more community input before making a decision on the clinic.

It would be open five days a week from noon to 5 p.m. for youths to get general health information and referrals to services.

 

Twice a week, medical providers would be available to  help teens with various health issues.

That would include doing pregnancy tests, talking to pregnant girls about their options, testing for sexually transmitted infections and giving out condoms or prescriptions for birth control if teens request it — services teens 12 and older can receive without parental consent, according to state law.

“My concern is that if it’s part of school grounds, I want to be real clear where the line is with parental consent and where kids can just walk in,” said Board member Jim Maready.

Board President Frances Costello said she’d like to hear from more parents before making a decision.

The Del Norte Community Health Center already conducts a teen clinic on Monday afternoons at 550 E Washington Blvd.

However, health officials said they would like a location more accessible and private for teens.

Hilda Yepes-Contreras, the manager of the Community Health Center, said she wants to reach teens not coming to the current clinic — those that have come in the past requested a private setting.

The proposed clinic would be in the school district’s Two Trees building, 544 W. Harding Ave., where the Healthy Start program and a counselor are already based. The building is at the south entrance to Del Norte High School. Castle Rock Charter School and College of the Redwoods are also nearby.

“We were excited to hear about Two Trees and thought it might be a convenient and accessible site for teens,” said Cheyenne Spetzler, operations director for Open Door Community Health Centers, which has clinics in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

The Del Norte Community Health Center has one large waiting room for medical and dental patients.

The current facility can be intimidating to teens, Spetzler said.

Tara Moss, a physician and coordinator for all Open Door teen clinics, said the new clinic would be a supportive place for youths.

Del Norte has an “alarming” teen pregnancy rate, she said. Clinic physicians promote abstinence as the safest choice and talk about the ramifications of having sex, but also give teens information on birth control, Moss said.

For girls who are already pregnant, physicians talk to them about their options: keeping the baby, adoption and abortion — the Community Health Center does not terminate pregnancies, Moss said.

At Thursday’s School Board meeting, Liz Freeman said she was concerned about “the promotion or availability of abortions” and suggested that the teen clinic remain where it is now.

She asked the School Board to take some time in considering the decision.

Medical providers also talk to teens about whether they’ve been abused or have been pressured into having sex or taking drugs, Moss said.

The teen clinic would be a place where youths can talk to someone about being depressed,  anorexic, neglected or abused — “someone who can help youth access services,” Moss said.

The School Board’s student  member, Meghan Webb, said  teens need someone to talk to and that one health class in high school doesn’t prevent kids from having sex.

Benita Cabrera, the facilitator of the Teen Success program, an effort of the county Department of Health and Human Services and Six Rivers Planned Parenthood, brought several teen mothers to the meeting.

Speaking for the teens, Cabrera said they are learning how to be a parent “as they go along” and that they appreciate the information they receive going to Teen Success meetings, which aims to help teen moms who are still in high school.

If the information available at the teen clinic had been made more easily accessible to them “they would have made some different life decisions,” Cabrera said.

Krista Wilson, who said she had been a teen mom, told the board that going into the waiting office of a doctor’s office is “not necessarily the easiest thing to do ... to walk in and have those faces stare at you.”

Getting there isn’t that hard, but it’s “what it feels like to be there,” Wilson said.

Annette Short, who said she also had been a teen mom, said that if teenagers are going to use birth control, they should go to their family doctor first.

Short said she didn’t like the idea of the teen clinic being closer to high-schoolers.

A lot of teens don’t have an adult to talk to, said Board member Jennifer England. By making the teen clinic more accessible, kids can gain more information, she said.

Board member Don McArthur agreed that “we should do as much education as we can ... as early as we can.”

The teen clinic should be “a place of their own,” he said.

 


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