PORTLAND, Ore. -- Thirty years ago, the first school health center west of the Mississippi opened at Portland's Roosevelt High School amid controversy.
On Monday, the school celebrated its anniversary and commended the vital role the health center plays in the health of students.
"Thirty years ago Portland newsrooms covered the pickets, protests and national outrage around Multnomah County opening a health center in Roosevelt High School," said Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, spokeswoman for the Multnomah County Health Department. "People were terrified that putting Health Department staff in a high school would open the floodgates of sexual permissiveness through birth control and sex education."
During the first year of operation, the health center mainly treated teens for acute health care problems and 78 students were seen for reproductive issues. The birth control debate was raging, with many urging abstinence-only education in schools. Newspaper clippings from the time showed the lightning-rod issue at the center of the health center controversy.
Between 1990 and 1992, there were 5,890 teen pregnancies in Multnomah County. Twenty-three years later, that number dropped to 1,817, according to Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.
Sullivan-Springhetti said there are now 13 school health centers in Portland's school districts, serving students about 17,000 times a year.
"The Roosevelt experiment paid off," Kafoury said.
Health officials say the centers help students who don't always have easy access to healthcare.
“I meet with teens on urgent care needs, immunizations, reproductive health care, sports physicals and well-teen check ups. There are families who can’t take them to another care provider,” said health center nurse Shelley Bedell. “I see students because of questions about sexual health, emotional health and it is a privilege.’’
The celebration also highlighted the new health center built at Roosevelt High School with school bond renovation funds. The high school in the Portland neighborhood of St. Johns has undergone a $92 million renovation to modernize the building and upgrade safety features.