By MIKE WILLIAMS
There soon will be a school-based health and dental clinic located at Pulaski County High School, following a unanimous vote Tuesday by the school board.
The vote was apparently only a formality considering the most recent public discussion on the issue at the August board meeting.
At that meeting, Draper resident Billy Williams asked School Board Chairman Dr. Paige Cash if the clinic is a “done deal.” She replied then, “Yes.”
At Tuesday’s meeting the board approved a proposal from The Free Clinic of the New River Valley, Inc. doing business as the Community Health Center of the New River Valley to provide school-based health center services. Their proposal was the only one submitted to the school system during its Request for Proposal process.
Next the board approved a Memorandum of Understanding that governs the partnership between the school system and Community Health Center of the NRV.
According to a press release from the school system, the health and dental clinic – being constructed in the CTE building on the high school campus – will allow parents the option to schedule appointments and have their children treated for minor health related issues, check-ups, and physicals during the school day without having to leave work and without signing their children out of school.
According to the release, the dental clinic will serve students on-site, but also establish a mobile schedule for services that will be provided in each elementary and middle school at regular intervals throughout the year.
The clinic will accept most insurance providers and no student will be refused treatment regardless of ability to pay as long as the clinicians have been given parental consent.
“This is a real game-changer for Pulaski County families,” School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers stated in the release. “We are very proud of the fact that this clinic will help our students become healthier, happier learners and hope to see a marked improvement in attendance rates as well as improved parent satisfaction with the variety of services beyond instruction that are provided in our public schools.”
Siers continued that the Community Health Center of the NRV had already established an “incredibly successful school-based clinic in Giles County.”
“We are excited that they were interested in developing a similar partnership with Pulaski County Public Schools,” Siers added.
The release states the actual clinic site is still in development at PCHS, but school officials hope to have it operational before December 1, 2022.
According to the release, the memorandum of understanding approved by the Pulaski County School Board establishes a yearly renewal process for continued operation of the clinic.
The release closes by saying “additional information regarding treatment services and consent forms will be made available to parents in the near future.”
The board’s vice chairman, Timmy Hurst, offered motions to approve both the Community Health Center of the NRV proposal and the memorandum of understanding between the school system and the health center.
“The health center is a clinic very similar to any clinic out in the public that a parent could take their children to, or a child could go to for services,” Hurst said.
“In Pulaski County we have an extremely high rate of poverty – more so than what most people realize in this community. And so many of our children do not have the means or the ability – and parents do not have maybe the means and the ability – to take their kids to see a doctor on a regular basis.”
Hurst told of a friend whose wife – a former teacher in the county – had given coats and shoes in the wintertime to children who needed them. He said teachers and the school system are known for doing that – “the right things.”
“In my opinion, especially with some of our families who have less means, I think this is a wonderful opportunity for families that have modest means,” Hurst said.
He added that it can be difficult and “financially draining” for some families when a parent has to take a day off work to take a child to a doctor’s appointment.
“I think of the children in this community who have not seen a dentist and we’re giving children the opportunity to see a dentist.
“I’m not going to apologize for this vote. I think it’s the right thing to do to help children in Pulaski County Public Schools. I’m amazed at any opposition to this,” Hurst said.
Ingles District representative Penny Golden seconded Hurst’s motion and noted she had received “not one call in opposition to this clinic.” She said she did, however, receive calls in support of the clinic plan.
She said to have opposition to the plan is “very sad.”
Ingles District representative Bill Benson said he, too, had received only calls in favor of the plan – and one from a citizen who said she at first opposed it, but now agreed with the plan.
Benson also took exception with concerns over transparency expressed by citizens earlier in the meeting.
“I don’t like the accusation I heard tonight. Not one time has this board discussed this facility behind closed doors.”
Massie District representative Becki Cox also stated she did not receive any calls in opposition to the plan – a plan she has favored from the beginning, she said, because of the poverty she had experienced as a child.
“I am very thankful for the member of law enforcement who brought this idea to us. He thought it was a wonderful idea because of the need he had witnessed in the county.
“I am very, very thankful that we are able to provide this to students who need it,” Cox said.
Cash said she also had received no calls in opposition to the health center, but had spoken to people who are in favor of the clinic.
Earlier during one of two public comment periods held during the meeting, three citizens did speak against the health center proposal.
Gina Paine told the board “it is fair to assume the health center will abide by all applicable state laws. Indeed, Section 4.4 [of the memorandum of understanding] says the health center and this board agree to follow all state and federal requirements. Section 3.3 of your contract attempts to restrain the medical services provided; neurologic, psychiatric, contraception and “specialty services” will be referred out of the health center. Ignoring the fact the schools are going to facilitate minors accessing those services, be reminded that Va. State Law provides for minors to be treated as adults relative to family planning, mental health, and other “specialty services.” Would the health center decline to treat a minor seeking these services when state law allows them to? Would they abide by your contract and ignore state law? They cannot and will not,” she said.
“State law also allows for medical records to be withheld from parents/guardians based on the ‘professional judgment’ of medical providers. I encourage all parents/guardians to read VA statute section 54.1-2969,” Paine urged.
Paine added, “the student new patient packet that you link to– both the online and downloadable versions – asks in the medical history portion “are you interested in discussing birth control options with your provider?”
She also noted the authorization parents/guardians are required to sign states they are granting permission to CHCNRV’s School Program to perform services on the listed minor with or without their presence.
“Attempts will be made to contact parents, but only attempts. They can and will proceed whether contact is made or not. The authorization is a standing directive. Once signed, the student can access the clinic whenever they want, with or without their parent/guardian,” Paine said.
Brittany Lambert said school board policy KG-R states “the community use of school facilities program is not meant to provide a permanent home for any large organization’s continuous operations. However, school facilities can be made available for temporary long-term use while an eligible organization is in the process of procuring its permanent home.”
She said Community Health Center for the NRV is not a new business in the process of procuring a permanent home.
“It is already established in the NRV. Wouldn’t this fact alone disqualify them according to your policy?”
Lambert said it “baffles me” that the work on establishing a facility for the clinic had already been started before a vote was even taken or before the memorandum of understanding was even established.
Lambert said Cash had stated in an email that no taxpayer money will be utilized to sustain the clinic.
But in the memorandum of understanding, Lambert said, it states that Pulaski County Schools will “provide space and utilities to operate the school health center, as well as general custodial services.”
Lambert asked, “aren’t utilities and custodial services paid for out of taxpayer funds?”
“My point is this, from the inception of this idea to bring the clinic to PCHS, this board has not been transparent about their intentions, and has kept it under wraps as much as possible to not allow for public input,” Lambert charged.
“Transparency is something that this board sorely lacks. Maybe try being honest with this community,” Lambert stated.
In his comments, Williams charged that “the entire process from March until now has been shrouded in secrecy and misdirection, delays, behind-closed-door meetings and exorbitantly high FOIA charges in an attempt to get this clinic installed at the high school.”
He said consent forms have already been presented to parents, starting as far back as the open house dates – even before the clinic was voted on.
“These consent forms that most parents think are to give permission to treat a runny nose or a cough actually open the door for putting a child on birth control, treatment of STDs, mental health diagnosis and treatment, pregnancy care and even more all without the parents’ consent or knowledge.
“I urge all parents to realize what they are actually giving consent to when they sign these forms, because it’s not just about runny noses. It could result in another method that will take away or limit parental rights in regard to what medical treatment their child will receive without their input,” Williams said.