This editorial was published in the Omaha World-Herald‘s Midlands Voices section on December 15, 2017.
The writer is chief executive officer of OneWorld Community Health Centers.
Health care options for young people are continuing to be minimalized. Especially with Congress’ delay in reauthorizing funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, and for community health centers, resources are at risk, and access to sexual health services is being threatened.
Without funding and support, our youth and our community will suffer.
One of the top health care concerns in Douglas County is that adolescents and young adults, ages 15 to 24, have higher rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea than any other age group. Now, more than ever, we are committed to making local services and education accessible for all young people in Omaha.
In January 2016, OneWorld Community Health Centers opened a Teen and Young Adult Health Center on South 24th Street. This is the only comprehensive health center in the Omaha metro that is dedicated to teens and young adults.
At this location, we provide critical primary and behavioral health care for patients who speak nine different languages and live in 13 different ZIP codes, and we make it easy for teens and young adults to access services by having extended night and weekend hours.
During the past couple of years, reports have shown a decrease in unintended teen pregnancies across the nation, due in large part to the intentional focus on education and access to contraceptives. At the Teen and Young Adult Health Center, all young people have access to confidential testing for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, STD treatment, educational materials, condoms and birth control — all at no cost to them, whether they have health insurance or not.
Making these sexual health resources available to young people has made an incredible difference in our community. The number of pregnant students at Omaha South High School, which is located across the street from the clinic, was cut nearly in half, from 49 pregnancies in the 2015-16 school year to 24 pregnancies during the 2016-17 school year.
In the past year, more than 900 people were tested for STDs at this clinic. (Getting tested for an STD is the only way people know for sure they have one.)
Access matters, but more action is required in order to make a community-wide impact.
Our sexual health educators are committed to education — for young people and adults — reaching nearly 6,500 people in the past year through local activities such as group classes, peer-to-peer coaching, talks to human growth and development classes at local schools and participation in community health fairs and events.
National research confirms that parents are key educators of their children. In fact, nine out of 10 teens say they are more likely to postpone sex and avoid STDs and pregnancy if they can talk with their parents about these topics.
Parents are invited to participate in classes and are welcome to attend appointments at the Teen and Young Adult Health Center.
By making resources accessible, we are giving young people the ability to become healthy and productive members of our community.
Open, honest and ongoing conversations are also important in reducing negative health outcomes for our young people. We are all responsible for supporting education and access to resources, and we are happy to be doing our part.