(Hendersonville, NC) Carlee Smith is a language arts teacher at Apple Valley Middle School with a daughter Ella who attends kindergarten at Edneyville Elementary.
“Ella had a sore throat and we didn’t know if it was strep,” Smith recalled. “Apple Valley has a health center, so she came over and they gave her a strep test. It turned out negative. Having their service available kept me from having to take time off work, and Ella received the care she needed.” Many parents face the same dilemma: they work full-time and when their school-age child is ill, they want to be sure that the child has the proper medical attention. This often means taking time off from work at the last minute, trying to schedule a same-day appointment with a doctor, and driving from work to school to the doctor and back again – unless the child needs to go home.
“As a teacher, I feel that our health center is invaluable to our students and school,” Smith said. “I taught at Flat Rock Middle when we only had a school nurse. We were always asking ‘Do we send them home? Do we keep them at school?’ With the school based health center, a Physician’s Assistant or Nurse Practitioner can diagnose and prescribe medication when necessary. Now the kids can get the treatment they need and we know how to take care of them: keep them in class or send them home.”
Tammy Greenwell with Blue Ridge Community Health Services (BRCHS) agreed. “The centers are there to serve all the school kids, faculty, and staff,” she said. “They are especially important for those who don’t have a medical home or who don’t have insurance or are under-insured. The centers are onsite and accessible to everyone without having to make parents leave work or students leave school,” she said.
BRCHS provides comprehensive nursing, medical, behavioral health and nutrition services at dedicated, on-site school based health centers for 2,765 students in four schools located in Henderson County: two elementary schools (Bruce Drysdale and Hillandale), a middle school (Apple Valley) and a high school (North Henderson). Three centers are staffed during school hours throughout the academic year; Bruce Drysdale is open year round.
Money is never a barrier to care in the school health center. Services are available to students regardless of income level or insurance status. For those who are uninsured, services are provided on a sliding fee basis—which slides all the way down to $0.
School based health centers in Henderson County are the result of a collaboration between BRCHS and Henderson County Public Schools (HCPS). At the four permanent sites, HCPS provides physical space for the centers and assists with dissemination of informational materials.
“We are very appreciative of their work and our partnership with Blue Ridge Community Health Services,” said David L. Jones, superintendent of Henderson County Public Schools. “The services provided to our students and staff through the school based health centers are wonderful. They are truly making a difference for our students and community.”
As of January, thanks to funding from the Sisters of Mercy of NC Foundation, Edneyville and Sugarloaf Elementary schools, Hendersonville and Flat Rock Middle schools and Hendersonville High School students – all 3,165 of them – will now have access to the school based health centers. School health services are available to children from other schools as well on a case-by-case basis.
“Almost 6,000 students will have access to care during this school year,” said Shannon Dowler, MD, BRCHS Chief Medical Officer. “School based health centers have become an important method of health care delivery for children in Henderson County. They create an environment of service coordination and collaboration that addresses the health needs of students with health disparities or poor access to health care services that might otherwise go unserved.”
“Our staff develops a rapport with the student and their family,” she continued. “A student may come to a school health center complaining of a headache or stomach ache, and we may learn that there are problems at home.” The school health center staff work collaboratively with the Department of Social Services and local non-profits to link families to resources for food, shelter, etc.”
Will there be additional centers opening? “Only with additional funding,” Greenwell stated. “These centers are not self-supporting; they are funded by community donations, fundraising events, state and foundation grants.”
With that many students having access to medical and behavioral health, BRCHS expects to contribute to systematic change in not only health care, but education as well by:
- Providing primary and preventive health services, including management of chronic and episodic illnesses, injury care, physicals and immunizations.
- Providing behavioral health and nutritional counseling.
- Providing disadvantaged and underserved youth who do not have a medical home with access to health care services at SBHCs and an opportunity to make BRCHS their permanent medical home.
- Providing access to BRCHS services to students’ family members who need access to primary care.
- Improving attendance and academic performance by promoting overall health and well-being to students.
Apple Valley teacher Smith said, “Our school heath center is an invaluable resource. As a working mom, I appreciate that the health center services are available and accessible. As a teacher, I know that a healthy child is a more ready-to-learn student.”
BRCHS has been serving Hendersonville and the surrounding communities for 50 years in an effort to provide high quality and affordable medical, dental and mental health care as well as promote health awareness/education. Services are conveniently located in Hendersonville at 2579 Chimney Rock Road (the corner of US 64 East and Howard Gap Road); in Brevard at 89 Hospital Drive, Suite B (just before the hospital); and in our four School Based Health Centers. If you would like more information about BRCHS services, call 692-4289 ext. 2509; write to BRCHS at P.O. Box 5151, Hendersonville, NC 28793; or online at www.brchs.com or www.facebook.com/BRCHS.
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