By MIKE WILLIAMS
The Pulaski County School Board is ready to move toward having a school-based health clinic on the campus of Pulaski County High School.
At its meeting last week, the board heard a presentation from Megan Atkinson, Director of Career and Technical Education on the health clinic concept.
Atkinson told the board that last fall she was able to go with a group of school administrators to Giles High School where that school division had implemented a community health center clinic.
“I really enjoyed what I saw,” Atkinson said. “It sounded like a great opportunity and the stories that they shared about individual students, and faculty and staff that had benefited from the clinic in that short period of time are inspiring.”
Atkinson said she took a second trip to Giles along with members of the Pulaski County school nursing staff and the athletic trainer at the high school.
When the group returned home, Atkinson asked their impression of what they had seen in Giles.
“Overwhelmingly they said that they thought that it would be a great idea for us to look at this opportunity. The bottom line is that a lack of medical care and dental care is a reality for many of our school-aged children. Illness and poor dental health can cause poor academic performance, as well as chronic absenteeism of students,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson introduced three other speakers to explain the health clinic concept. They included Michelle Brauns, Chief Executive Officer of the Community Health Center of the New River Valley, along with Erika Slagel-Perry, LPN and Gabby Stowers, an oral health advocate.
Brauns explained the Community Health Center of the New River Valley, which is headquartered in Christiansburg, has four clinics including the Giles High School clinic that was opened this past year. A second clinic, in Dublin, was opened in 2017. A third clinic is located in Pearisburg.
“All the clinics mirror each other in services. We have family medical care. We have dental care, and behavioral health services. We also operate prescription programs out of the Christiansburg office so we’re fairly comprehensive, growing abundantly and that’s because there is such a need in this community of the New River Valley,” Brauns said.
She told the board the clinic at Giles High School had improved access to care not just for students, but also faculty and staff – and from all over the county not just Giles High.
Slagel-Perry and Stowers explained the clinic program consists of two parts at the school-based health center – a medical center and an oral health program.
They explained there are two avenues to care within the medical center. The first is a school nurse.
“A student comes to school and doesn’t feel good. It’s like normal – they would go to their school nurse. Their school nurse then could call us and put the student on the schedule, and they can come and see us. The second avenue is where the student’s parents, guardian, or the student themselves calls me direct and gets on the schedule,” Slagel-Perry said.
She told the board about a particular student – an 18-year-old male.
At the clinic, he was assisted in completing a new patient package and with the enrollment process for Medicaid since he didn’t have insurance.
During the medical visit at the clinic, it was discovered the student had never been to a dentist.
“Gabby (Stowers) learned he was having dental pain and had been having it for quite a while. She was able to get him scheduled for an exam, a dental cleaning and referral to an oral surgeon to correct the problem,” Slagel-Perry said.
“Since the school-based health center opened in Giles in August it’s seen 176 medical appointments, that’s faculty and students,” Slagel-Perry said.
“Out of those appointments we’ve seen 28 percent of those people come back. They’re coming back with things like sports and school physicals, immunizations, routine lab work. We are becoming their primary care provider.”
Atkinson offered her thanks to Officer Jake Price, the SRO at Snowville Elementary.
“He’s on the board at the Community Health Center and he’s the one who put us in contact with them, and we worked out the visit to Giles and just kind of set this process in motion,” she said.
Atkinson suggested using part of the classroom space that’s now being used as the life centered ed classroom in the CTE building at PCHS. She said she brought the Community Health Center folks over to look at the space and it had all of the things that they would need to come in and set up a clinic.
“The other thing that we would potentially get out of this partnership is that we need a part-time Nurse Aide instructor if we want to grow our CNA classes. And, because we would have a nurse on staff, the Community Health Center is willing to look at allowing that nurse to be that part-time Nurse Aide instructor and then our class sizes would be able to grow from 10 to 20 CNA candidates each year,” Atkinson pointed out.
“If a student at the high school came in and started feeling kind of under the weather while in school and went to see the nurse, the nurse could then refer that student to the clinic. After calling the parents and verifying all that with the parents, the parent would not have to call the pediatrician or the doctor and get an appointment and take off work to take the student and all that stuff,” Atkinson added.
She said the Community Health Center staff could be at different events, such as back to school nights, collecting paperwork and permission.
“They could be getting parents’ signatures to start. And then we talked about different situations where, for example, if you have a student who transfers in who’s also an athlete, and they want to go out for a sports team, they can schedule an appointment for their physical on site. So, they have that immediate access to healthcare that a lot of times when you make an appointment, you’re waiting weeks to be able to get in,” Atkinson said.
“I guess what we would need from the board is that we have a consensus about moving forward with trying to put a more formal plan together to bring a clinic to Pulaski County in the CTE center,” Atkinson said.
“Personally, I would be in favor of moving forward with it,” said Vice Chairman Timmy Hurst. “I think to me, it offers nothing but positives and offers opportunities for students who may or may not be getting regular health care to be able to get some health care as well as dental care. So, I have no issue with it. I’m all in favor of it.”
“I think particularly dental care because people tend to overlook their teeth and that can become very detrimental to their physical health,” chimed in Chairman Dr. Paige Cash.
“My experience while teaching, it seemed like the school nurse was the only medical personnel that our students ever saw. So, I think it would be a wonderful thing to do,” added board member Bill Benson.
“Whatever the next step is, we’re ready to move in that direction,” noted School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers.