Peak Vista Community Health Center serves over 93,000 patients at more than two dozen outpatient centers throughout the Pikes Peak and East Central regions.
One of those centers is nestled inside Falcon Elementary School and provides basic health care to El Paso County Colorado School District 49 students and their siblings up to age 21.
For Randall Seeman, a physician assistant who works at the school-based center, it is a labor of love.
"I love being able to see these kids," he said. "Sometimes I get emotional about it. This is the best place to be right now."
He and the other practitioners at the center treat kids' illnesses, minor injuries and chronic health issues. They also provide well-care exams and sports physicals, as well as behavioral health care. All insurance plans are accepted, and uninsured and underinsured patients are welcome; the center serves as a guide to resources and helps with the application process for programs such as Medicaid and CHP+. Students do not have to be plugged into the Peak Vista system to use the center.
"We do not charge a copay," Seeman said. "We do not back bill patients. We don't want a person's inability to pay to be restrictive in someone deciding to seek care. We're here for everyone."
But does everyone know they're there? "That's the million-dollar question," he said. As families transition in and out of D 49, he worries some aren't aware of the resource, even though the Falcon center is featured on the district's website.
"We are doing our best to be out there, to be noticed," Seeman said. "We have flyers we take to the schools. … We're always doing our best to get the word out."
The pandemic, of course, has been a challenge; the center closed for a while in the spring, but is now open even as classes have gone online. Hours are reduced from the pre-pandemic schedule, though. At the same time, the pandemic in some ways has lessened the demand for services; social distancing and mask wearing has reduced the spread of other bugs, such as the flu and the common cold.
"We're taking it one day at a time," Seeman said. "No one's written a book on how to get through a pandemic."
Aware of the emotional toll the pandemic and stay-at-home orders can take on families, the center focuses on both physical and mental health. There are questionnaires aimed at rooting out issues of depression and anxiety.
"They could be coming in for a sore throat," Seeman said. "We can treat that, but you don't know what else is going on unless you ask."
It is not just the children suffering emotionally during the pandemic; parents also come in frustrated by the state of things, said Natasha Wolinski, another physician assistant working at the Falcon center.
"We can empathize with them, while explaining from a medical standpoint why these restrictions are needed,” she said. And with a vaccine now available, Seeman sees light at the end of the tunnel, although, he said, "I don't know how much longer that tunnel is."
Still, he said, "We will get to a point where we will have the vaccine and be able to offer that vaccine."
Even when the center's doors were closed because of the coronavirus, patient care was still available as the center got its telehealth services up and running.
Telehealth was new to Wolinski.
"There's definitely been a learning curve," she said of the telehealth services. But now, “It's something that I hope stays around.” Telehealth can be of help to families who might have trouble getting to the school during the scheduled hours, Wolinski said.
Seeman started at Peak Vista in 2012; Wolinski joined the organization in 2014.
“My mom is a nurse," said Wolinski, a Colorado Springs native. "So from a young age, I knew I definitely wanted to go into health care. I just wasn't sure what capacity." It was in college that she decided to pursue the physician assistant path.
Seeman grew up in Aurora. He was looking at a career in physical therapy before he decided in his senior year of college to shift gears. He was seeing a specialist for an issue of his own at the time and liked the care he got from the specialist's physician assistant and the team approach the two provided.
Wolinski lives in the Springs with her 7-year-old daughter, who keeps her busy when she is not working. Seeman lives with his wife and their five children, ages 12 to 2, in Falcon.
Seeman serves in an administrative role when he is not at the Falcon center; Wolinski also puts in hours at another pediatric clinic. They share a passion for community health.
"I really feel that, for me and my talents, that's where I can best serve patients," Seeman said. “I love our mission."
Physician assistants Randall Seeman and Natasha Wolinski pose in an exam room at the Peak Vista Health Center inside Falcon Elementary School. Photo by Bill Radford