Gurdon clinic keeps students in school

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published September 13, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 12, 2012 at 1:08 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

— When a student gets sick or has a chronic condition, a lot of school time can be lost with doctor’s visits, tests and checkups. Even worse, some young people do not have access to medical care because their parents have no insurance, limited finances or no way to get to a doctor’s office.

A new in-school clinic has opened at Gurdon High School to bring medical care closer to students and provide for those young people who might not otherwise receive medical treatment.

“The bottom line is to keep the kids well enough to keep them on campus and in their classes,” said Tommie Campbell, Gurdon High School principal. “It is hard to teach students if they are not in class.”

Funded first with a state grant that allowed the Gurdon School District to hire nurses and a psychologist and bring in a coordinator, the project then received a $495,000 federal grant for construction of a new facility at the high school campus.

The Gurdon Wellness Center opened at the beginning of the school year.

“We started moving in on Monday, Aug. 20, the first day of school, and saw students at the clinic on Wednesday, Aug. 22,” said Cassie Winkelmeyer, the registered nurse for the clinic. “Students have to be enrolled by their parents. We want to see the students that would not have been seen at all.”

The school system received a coordinated school health grant from the Arkansas Depart-ment of Health and the Arkansas Department of Education in 2007. The funds came from a court settlement among the federal government, the state and the tobacco industry.

“That created Lisa Turner’s position with the school system to improve the health of our students,” Gurdon School District Superintendent Allen Blackwell said.

Lisa Turner, a tobacco specialist with Dawson Education Cooperative in Arkadelphia, came to the Gurdon schools to serve as the school health coordinator, along with Winkelmeyer and Wendy Schaeffer, a mental-health therapist.

Blackwell said the school district then had a medical-care program, but no place for it.

“Cassie asked for a building for a clinic, and one day, Lisa came to my office and said, ‘Look at this,’” he said.

What Turner showed Blackwell was a grant fund to build health care facilities in areas where access to doctors was problematic.

Winkelmeyer wrote the grant application to the U.S. Health Recourses and Services Administration for a program created under the Affordable Care Act. The group had little hope the application would be successful.

“It was a shot in the dark, but it worked,” Blackwell said.

“We got approval in July 2011,” Turner said. “We were the only one in Arkansas to receive a grant for full construction.

“The wellness center supports academic achievement with a focus on prevention. Using the tobacco money, we emphasize smoking prevention and intervention, along with our other services.”

Campbell said the prevention work done by the wellness center will increase health awareness among the students by providing the latest health information.

The new clinic worked out an agreement with Baptist Health in Arkadelphia for an advanced-practice nurse who sees students at the clinic two days a week.

“This way, the high school nurse can see other students, and she is seeing about the same number as last year,” Blackwell said.

Some of the students who come to the new wellness center could not receive the extensive care they need without leaving school for long periods of time.

“We have a student who has their blood pressure checked three times a day,” Winkelmeyer said. “We have six students who receive their medications here in the center. In the meantime, we handle sports injuries, give out allergy medications, and we can do exams such as those required to play sports.”

When the APN from Baptist Health is at the clinic, she will see from 13 to 18 students each day, Winkelmeyer said.

She emphasized that the clinic is not in competition with other health care providers in Clark County.

“We are seeing those kids who were not being seen by anyone,” Winkelmeyer said. “We would call parents if there was a problem, and we were told they could not pick them up and take them to a doctor because they were working or did not have transportation.”

Schaeffer said that while she is the only mental-health therapist hired for the new center, there are six other therapists who work for the district. Together, they see 95 student patients.

“I have three individual student clients, and then I see about three walk-ins a day,” she said.

In addition to individual students, Schaeffer said Campbell, the school principal, utilizes her services for conflict resolution between students and to assist teachers in finding ways to help troubled students.

“For students who are struggling with mental-health issues, it’s tough to sit in class and learn,” Schaeffer said.

In addition to students, 140 school district staff members are able to use the wellness center if they are sick, injured or need medication.

“I get my allergy shot here every Friday,” Campbell said. “Like the students, I don’t want to miss half a day of classes to see a doctor.”

Blackwell said he would like to see the clinic opened to members of the community who have no other means of receiving medical help, such as the parents of the students the wellness center is already seeing.

Winkelmeyer said clinic leaders are working out the details for a dentist to make regular visits to the center. A dental chair has been donated by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and the school district has used grant funds to purchase an X-ray machine and dental instruments. The school has also purchased storage equipment for laboratory samples and is exploring opportunities for providing eye care.

A grand opening is scheduled at the Gurdon Wellness Center for Oct. 18, when Gov. Mike Beebe will speak on the creation of the unique student clinic.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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