OHSU Family Medicine and Benson High blend education and student wellness in unique partnership

February 16, 2016

The new Benson Wellness Center, staffed by Department of Family Medicine faculty and residents, is the perfect blend of community health, resident education and fostering the pipeline of future health care professionals. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Feb. 11 and the Wellness Center will open to students later this month.

OHSU faculty members and Benson High students at Wellness Center ribbon cuttingOHSU's role in the journey to open a wellness center at Benson started two years ago. Since Benson Polytechnic High School is a magnet school, it draws students from all Portland neighborhoods, making it highly diverse; 30 percent of students are Hispanic, 21 percent are African-American, and 64 percent qualify as "economically disadvantaged." This sometimes meant that students had to travel long distances to obtain health care. School counselor Amy Henry wanted to do more for Benson's students, and in June of 2014, Benson won a $40,000 Kaiser Permanente grant to open a school-based health center. Doreen Roozee was hired as project manager.

In order to start the project, the school still needed a medical sponsor. Everything fell into place when Alex Verdieck, M.D., associate director for OHSU Family Medicine's residency program, caught wind of the project. As a part of all family medicine residency programs, residents are required to spend a certain amount of time caring for adolescents under faculty supervision, which is not always easy to guarantee. Benson's need for a medical sponsor coupled with OHSU Family Medicine's adolescent training requirement turned out to be the perfect union.

Two years, hundreds of volunteer hours, and a great team effort later, Benson Wellness Center is complete. Both CareOregon and FamilyCare contributed to the project, awarding $100,000 and $80,000 grants, respectively, and Portland Public Schools stepped in to provide the renovations required to build the space. The center will be staffed by OHSU Family Medicine residents and faculty, a school nurse and behavioral health providers – all of whom will work closely together to provide coordinated care for students.

"The availability and relatability of residents will help Benson students foster healthy, long-term relationships with their primary care providers, which will hopefully set the stage for the rest of their lives," said Dr. Verdieck, assistant professor of family medicine, OHSU School of Medicine. The adolescent years are particularly important as teens begin to independently manage their health, diets, relationships and mental wellbeing. The Wellness Center will also align itself with OHSU Family Medicine Richmond's clinic, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), ensuring all students, regardless of insurance status, will be able to receive care.

Former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremonyAdditionally, about one-third of students are enrolled in the Health Science Pathway at Benson, and the presence of the Wellness Center will open up numerous opportunities for learning and mentorship. Providers and teachers have already come together to develop cooperative learning plans for these students.

OHSU Family Medicine's residents will be able to treat students from a variety of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, giving them practical experience in facets of the health care system such as culturally competent care and social determinants of health.

Once off the ground, Benson administrators hope to grow the Wellness Center in leaps and bounds. Aspirations for the future include after-school labs for Health Science students, summer school and evening school clinic hours, research opportunities, and possibly even a dentistry presence. One thing is certain: Both OHSU Family Medicine residents and Benson's students have a lot to learn from each other. 


Pictured top (back row, l to r): OHSU Family Medicine faculty members Drs. Nancy Zink, Fran Biagioli and Alex Verdieck;(front row) Benson High students

Pictured bottom: Former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts at the Feb. 11 ribbon-cutting ceremony