By Carol Stiffler

For students at Tahquamenon Area Schools (TAS), help isn’t just “on the way”. It’s already there.

On the southern end of the Newberry High School building, near the shop wing, a suite of offices house The CAMP: Counseling and Medical Place.  The CAMP is a school-based health care center. Staffed with health care professionals from the Luce Mackinac Alger Schoolcraft District Health Department (LMAS), The CAMP is a bonafide medical office. Nurse Practitioner Laura Gribbell is there three days a week, Therapist Wendy Young is there five days a week, and Program Coordinator Toni Depew is onsite most days.

Though it’s housed within the TAS facility, The CAMP is a fully separate, grant-funded entity. With parental consent, it provides medical care and counseling to children ages 5-21 regardless of where they live or go to school.

“Our center is for every child,” Depew said. The CAMP is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., even when school is not in session, and office visits are billed to the student’s insurance. Faculty and staff are also welcome to seek care at The CAMP.

Depew said students and families tend to lean on The CAMP for sports physicals, immunizations, and illnesses or injuries that pop up. But when the nurse is not there, it’s still a hotbed of activity.

In a random hour last week at The CAMP, the nurse was off duty but a steady stream of students came in unscheduled. Four of them requested ice packs. One left coins on the counter and took a bottle of water from the mini fridge. Another asked for cough drops for a sore throat that just wouldn’t quit. Depew dispensed all those, and because she’s not a nurse, was required to kindly refuse to dispense medication to one student who had a headache. He left with an ice pack and Depew’s best wishes.

Because The CAMP is completely separate from the school, a student’s grades, behavior, and reputation do not follow them into the medical office.

“We definitely get a different view of the kids,” Depew said. “We don’t know who is a troublemaker.”

Most kids are on their best behavior at The CAMP anyway, Depew said. Perhaps it’s the calm yet cheerful decor, or the quiet and very un-school-like vibe, but visitors to the CAMP rarely cause a fuss.

The CAMP can help with basic needs, including writing prescriptions and ordering x-rays, but can’t fill prescriptions or take those x-rays. They can’t dispense condoms or contraceptives, but can test for pregnancy if necessary.

“Parents are fully involved with the care their children receive at the facility,” said LMAS Director Nick Derusha. “[Students] have to have consent forms in place. If there are treatment needs, the providers are always communicating directly with parents.”

Derusha said the CAMP is a huge resource for the school and benefit to our communities, particularly for parents that are in a working situation.

Young’s therapy services are by appointment only, not like the in-the-moment counseling the school counselor might take on. But if the school counselor identifies a situation in which Young may be helpful, the counselor can send home letters and consent forms to the student’s family to have the child added to Young’s client list.

LMAS is adding therapists at several schools within its district, but TAS is the only one with an on-site nurse so far. That placement was done after a needs-based assessment.

Superintendent Stacy Price described The CAMP as a fantastic asset to the district, praising its convenience for quick care to a student’s immediate physical needs.

“The collaboration of The CAMP with the school has just become how we do business at TAS,” Price said. “The partnership is needed for our students and community to be healthy.”

Sometimes a student just needs to catch their breath, and a few minutes of calm at The CAMP is restorative. And sometimes, as Depew noted, there’s comfort in just being in the presence of someone who cares.

Price concurred. “I think it provides students a sense of stability and a safe place that they can come to school and know that they can get what they need whether it is a toothbrush, a cough drop, snack, or clothes, or see someone because they don’t feel good,” she said. “The sense of knowing a place exists that is warm and welcoming and that school staff support and use themselves is comforting.”