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story.lead_photo.caption This health clinic at Jones Elementary School in Springdale opened in 2010. - Photo by Ben Goff

SPRINGDALE -- Springdale Public Schools officials say that opening a fourth school-based wellness center will keep more students healthy and in class.

The district budgeted $350,000 to add between 1,200 and 1,600 square feet to Parson Hills Elementary School for a wellness center, said Jared Cleveland, deputy superintendent.

Officials also intend to renovate the school's facade to give a fresh look to one of the district's older buildings.

The district opened its first wellness center in 2010 at Jones Elementary School. Centers also have opened at George and Elmdale elementary schools.

Cleveland said he expects the one at Parson Hills to be ready by the middle of next fall.

A five-year, $535,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Education, in partnership with the state Health Department, will pay for expenses associated with construction and operation, according to Mary Miller, the district's school health coordinator.

School-based health clinics provide easy access to medical care not only for students, but for their parents and other community members, Miller said. Students are always given priority. The centers are open 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Nonemergency care for various illnesses and injuries is available, including basic lab tests for illnesses such as strep throat. Patients also can get immunizations, mental-health services, wellness checks and physical examinations.

Community Clinic provides the medical care and Ozark Guidance Center provides mental-health services at the centers. Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance plans are accepted.

The centers help keep students from missing school, Miller said. Some parents can't get time off work to take children to the doctor.

"Many times we've seen kids go home and just stay there for a week until they get better rather than get to the doctor and get back to school within a few days," Miller said. "So if we can get those kids easy access to medical and mental-health care, then we are more likely to keep them healthy, keep them in school and have them be ready to learn."

Amanda Echegoyen, chief operating officer at Community Clinic, said her organization has a strong focus on the environment in the places people live, work and play and how that affects a person's health. Those environments commonly are known as social determinants of health.

"Statistics show that 80-plus percent of your health status is determined by things that happen outside an environment of medical care," Echegoyen said. "So a school-based health center is a great way to help patients overcome a lot of those social determinants of health. It's a convenient and safe location for children to be cared for without their parents having to leave work."

The district's three school wellness centers saw a total of 1,633 patients who made 2,506 visits from January through November, Echegoyen said.

Jones Elementary was one of the first schools in the state to open a wellness center. It changed the focus of the school from merely one that educates children to one that cares for entire families, said Melissa Fink, Jones Elementary's principal.

She points to one success story in particular from several years ago. A kindergartner went into the Jones clinic with what staff members suspected was pink eye. A clinic employee noticed a very slight droop in one of the girl's eyes; out of caution, the employee referred the girl to a specialist.

It turned out the girl had a brain infection, which kept her in the hospital for about six weeks. Doctors said if the infection hadn't been detected when it was, the girl may have died within days or even hours, Fink said.

"She was able to return to school later in the year and did very well," she said.

The district has been working with Core Architects, a Rogers firm, on a design of the addition to Parson Hills. Core has provided renderings, which Cleveland showed at the School Board meeting this month.

"There's nothing set in stone at all whatsoever," Cleveland told the board. "It's just kind of a dream of what Parson Hills could potentially look like."

Parson Hills was chosen as the site for the next wellness center in part because of the school's high population of Marshallese children, who have been identified as being underserved in terms of medical care, Miller said.

Superintendent Jim Rollins said the centers are part of the district's focus of serving all of a child's needs.

"We've been able, in addition to serving the children, to help immensely with many of their family members. So the idea of a secure family, a healthy family, a healthy child, that's beautiful," Rollins said.

He hopes to add a fifth center, but isn't ready to discuss the site.

"I really appreciate the work of Community Clinic, because they've been full partners with us in the health center movement in our district," he said.

There are 32 school-based health centers in the state, including nine in Northwest Arkansas, according to the School-Based Health Alliance of Arkansas.

This rendering by Core Architects shows how Parson Hills Elementary School in Springdale could look once a renovation and addition is completed next fall. The addition is expected to be 1,200 to 1,600 square feet for a school-based health center.

Metro on 12/28/2018

Print Headline: Springdale schools to add health clinic


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