Novel Approach Born Out of Pandemic Brings Healthcare Directly on Campus to Students


A SCHOOL-AGE student can receive on-campus healthcare through Campus Clinics. The program contracts with 42 school districts in California.

By Laurie Hanson

In the post-pandemic days, one entrepreneur has found a way to bring healthcare to K-12 schools.

“If you can order a hamburger through an app and have it arrive at your doorstep, we should be able to deliver healthcare to kids at schools today,” said Thomas Shaffer, President of Campus Clinics.  Though only working in the healthcare field for three and a half years, Shaffer has surrounded himself with experts in the field, which has allowed him to think without historical limitations with a unique perspective in an innovative way.

During the pandemic, he volunteered as a board member of a non-profit COVID testing laboratory, which was a resource for on-campus testing. It was there he noticed how these testing resources were located close to the students and staff and how the utilization of the resources increased.  “The small difference in location between a testing site in a school parking lot and a testing cart in a hallway created a massive difference in the number of individuals who used the service,” he said. “As the needs of schools changed from COVID testing to physical and mental healthcare, the lab was not intended or well positioned to address these needs.  To help the schools provide healthcare resources on-site, Shaffer created Campus Clinic.  “I used the lessons learned during the pandemic to improve the location and access for patients,” he explained. “Now, healthcare resources are a classroom or a hallway away from many students. This maximizes attendance and instructional time while driving utilization of healthcare.”

“Campus Clinic is uniquely positioned to meet the growing mental and physical healthcare needs of K-12 students, staff, and their families,” he said. “Unlike other services that rely primarily on Telehealth, Campus Clinic places therapists, doctors, providers, nurses, and other medical staff right on the school campus.”

One example is Campus Clinic’s access to mental health services.

“We provide access to in-person and Telehealth therapy in not only one-on-one sessions, but we also provide access to group therapy and family therapy,” Shaffer explained. For physical health needs, Campus Clinics provide programs that enable on-site, in-person primary care services. These services can address many immediate needs that a patient might go to a retail clinic for.  “Schools and families see tremendous value in the outbreak prevention programs we offer,” he added. “Through these services, students and staff can be tested for Influenza A and B, RSV, and COVID on school campuses. This [physical health] program has been demonstrated to increase attendance by over 1 percent while reducing the spread of various diseases.”

“Our mission is to put healthcare on school campuses, to remove barriers to access, [and] create a loyal patient base at the schools we serve,” Shaffer explained.  The key to their success is delivering in-person care right on campus.

“Although we also make Telehealth services available to all, we believe in-person services are critically important,” he said. “In-person services have better outcomes, they reduce absences, and they also increase the availability of resources.”

Shaffer learned the value of this through a superintendent friend who explained the need of an underprivileged elementary school by describing how the school-based health clinic was two miles away from the school.  “It might as well be twenty miles away,” his friend said.  “This statement has resonated with me and helped me define the way our programs look,” Shaffer said.

Evidence demonstrates that in-person services provide more engagement and better patient outcomes than other modalities. According to Shaffer, this deployment model requires Campus Clinic programs to be adaptive to the available spaces on campus.

“Rather than placing the burden of seeking care and driving to a facility on patients and parents, we believe in the right to receive care wherever the patients are,” he explained. “We operate a mobile model where providers, therapists, and other healthcare resources go to the campus they serve. This overcomes transportation and access issues for even the most under-resourced areas. It is a key point of differentiation in our program and in healthcare in general.”  “Sometimes providers work one morning in an empty modular classroom and rotate to a Vice Principal’s office in the afternoon,” Shaffer said. “Flexibility is key to unlocking the on-campus healthcare opportunity for schools.”  Universal mental health screening platforms are but one service Campus Clinics offer, which highlights the goals and culture of the organization. This web-based technology platform is available to schools as a tool to identify students who may be suffering from anxiety or depression. Schools use it to screen all their students several times per year to see who needs additional resources, according to Shaffer.  “Campus Clinic provides the schools with a real-time reporting tool that shows the screener results on a district, school, grade, and individual basis,” he said. “Our tool immediately emails their counselors and principals if a self-harm risk is identified.”  Campus Clinic also pairs the screener with the Campus Success team. This team of professionals reaches out to guardians and parents or students who may need mental health support and connects them with therapists and providers, according to Shaffer.  “This allows the schools to rest easy, knowing that we not only surface an issue, but we immediately connect it with a solution and resource,” he explained. “This connection to resources allows schools to move forward with confidence with this universal screener.”  The culture and goals of Campus Clinics are to identify healthcare needs wherever they are and to quickly connect those needs with easy-to-access resources.  “Our universal mental health screener and therapy program highlights this goal and culture well,” Shaffer said.  Funding for Campus Clinics is available in several sustainable ways, he added. Some come at no cost to the school districts and are funded through insurance payers. Others that may have a cost are supported by grants and other mechanisms, he said.  A unique feature of Campus Clinics is that no patient has ever been turned away for not having insurance.  “We operate an ‘all-comers’ model whereby anyone can receive the care they need,” Shaffer said.

Additionally, Campus Clinics has a grant enablement team that locates them for school districts whereby they might not otherwise be aware of these funding resources. They help them with writing and submitting the grant applications.  “This grant enablement program comes at no cost to districts and allows them to add resources to support our programs,” he explained.   The success of Campus Clinics is measured in several ways, but all focus on patient outcomes and those of the schools, according to Shaffer.  “If patients and schools are healthier, that is a success,” he said.  Stories that motivate them most are ones where they have identified a need that does not have a resource, where Campus Clinics meets it in such a way that produces a good outcome in an easy-to-access way, according to Shaffer.

“We have implemented this approach from Northern California to the Border, and we plan to scale it nationwide over the coming years,” he said. “We measure the quality of the care through the patient outcomes it produces, and we feel very encouraged by the results we see. Mental health is improving in the patients, and physical health needs are being addressed in both preventative and responsive ways.”

Currently, Campus Clinics contracts with 42 school districts and hundreds of schools, including California’s largest elementary school district, Chula Vista.


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