Health center for students, staff opens at North Beach Jr/Sr High

State-funded model aims to reduce absence, increase access for rural areas

After two years of planning and construction, a primary care clinic for students and staff of the North Beach School District is now operational inside North Beach Junior/Senior High School in Ocean Shores.

The clinic, which aims to keep kids in school by reducing the need to leave for doctor visits and increasing access to healthcare, is the first completed project among a group awarded state grants in 2022 to expand or create School Based Health Centers in Washington, according to a press release from Grays Harbor County Public Health.

“We are fortunate to be able to start helping students, faculty and staff this month,” said Mike McNickle, director of Grays Harbor County Public Health.

McNickle said construction work at North Beach began in December, converting a former counseling space into a doctor’s office. That work, which made the space more suitable with exam tables and other equipment, faced some permitting delays that pushed the timeline back slightly.

The state Legislature in last year’s session finalized funding for the center — a $250,000 startup grant, $150,000 for operations in year two plus further funding for years three and four.

Last August the district and county chose Dr. Laura Galati, a naturopathic physician and licensed midwife currently running her own private practice in Hoquiam, as the doctor for the clinic.

Finishing construction allows for the full slate of services at the clinic, although Galati had already been providing some sports physicals

To start, the clinic will be open one day per week as a primary care center, providing walk-in services including check-ups, sports physicals, immunizations, illness and injury treatments and behavioral health. That’s a higher level of care than what a school nurse can typically provide, and the center is intended to work in conjunction with the school nurse.

It’s also not intended to replace other primary care doctors, McNickle said.

About 60 parents have provided consent forms for their students to use the clinic’s services. The opt-in is required for students to use the clinic.

“The idea is to try to keep students where they are,” McNickle said. “The data shows overwhelmingly that in schools with school-based health centers grades go up, absenteeism goes down, and parents are happier they don’t have to come pick up their kids and drive 45 minutes to Aberdeen and see a doctor.”

McNickle said the health department is working to come up with a transportation system for students at Ocean Shores Elementary and the farther Pacific Beach Elementary to access the clinic, but nothing has been finalized. Galati said she is working on a potential telemedicine option.

Future decisions about potentially expanding the clinic to the community would be up to the school board, McNickle said.

Planning for the center was conducted with a $50,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Health. The county partnered with the district and the Quinault Indian Nation to gather health needs from the community and used previous assessments that showed health gaps in rural areas and for tribal students.

Addressing gaps in underserved communities was partially the goal of a 2021 bill from the state Legislature that directed the Washington State Department of Health to establish a school-based health center program office and expand availability of school-based health centers in public schools.

“This clinic will go a long way in improving access to healthcare and health outcomes among young people, and will hopefully be the first of many,” said Katherine Shulock, the state health department’s liaison to Grays Harbor County, in an email.

The school-based health center would be the second of its kind in Grays Harbor County, after Elma Elementary District opened a center in January 2022. In the late 1980s, Seattle piloted the first school-based health centers in Washington, and as of January 2022, more than 65 centers operate in 25 different school districts in the state.

There are about 3,900 school-based health centers across the country — a number that has tripled since 1998, said Sandy Lennon, executive director of the Washington School-Based Health Alliance.

“Given limited access to health care in the community, we are excited that the North Beach SBHC will improve access to care for students, removing barriers to their health and learning,” Lennon said in an email.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or

The new School-Based Health Center at North Beach Junior/Senior High School features multiple private exam rooms. (Courtesy of Leigh Rowley / Grays Harbor County Public Health)

The new School-Based Health Center at North Beach Junior/Senior High School features multiple private exam rooms. (Courtesy of Leigh Rowley / Grays Harbor County Public Health)