CONWAY — Ida Burns Elementary School in Conway will open a school-based health clinic on campus for students and staff, in collaboration with Conway Regional Health System, Conway Superintendent Greg Murry said.
The Conway School District elementary school received a $540,000 grant to be given over five years to start the clinic. The Arkansas Department of Education, the Arkansas Department of Health and Medicaid in the Schools awarded the grant.
Murry said two classrooms are being renovated to create the clinic inside the elementary school at 1202 Donaghey Ave.
“It won’t be operational until at least January,” Murry said. “We’re trying to make sure we’re doing it right.”
The grant states that the clinic does not take the place of the school nurse.
“There will continue to be a full-time nurse at Ida Burns, separate from the clinic,” Murry said.
Conway Regional Medical Center will provide an advanced-practice nurse for the clinic, he said.
“They may choose to hire other people, and if they do, that’s fine,” he said, but it will not be a district expense. “I suppose it depends on how many kids are processing through it.”
Murry said the district will hire a clinic coordinator, per a grant requirement.
“We will be posting that position soon and, hopefully, will be able to hire somebody in a couple of weeks,” he said.
The superintendent said decisions about the clinic are still being made.
“It will be open during the school day; we’re not sure how many hours per day it will be open,” Murry said. “Right now, we don’t have any plans to open it up for general-public access.”
Rebekah Fincher, chief administrative officer at the Conway Regional Health System, said the hospital is excited about the grant, adding that an announcement will be made soon about the project. She referred all questions to the school district.
Murry said Ida Burns Elementary School was chosen as the site for the clinic because it is centrally located in the district and is in walking distance of the Conway high school and junior high, which are both on Prince Street.
The school was also chosen because of the high percentage of its students on free and reduced-price lunches. As of May, 75.25 percent of its students received free and reduced-price lunches.
“It obviously is one of our high-poverty schools, and you would assume there is the greatest need for medical attention at high-poverty schools,” Murry said.
“The location is what makes it great,” Conway School Board member Bill Clements said. “It’s just a great opportunity for our community to connect with our schools, but also to take care of some of our health and medical needs that are hard to address, especially for students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.”
Murry said a big advantage of the on-site clinic is that students can be examined and not have to miss school.
“We’re trying to provide services at a local level so students don’t have to leave, and also so parents don’t have to try to find out how to provide services for their students. Often, they’ll take the child home and say, ‘They’ll get better.’”
The clinic will provide “immediate attention for their medical needs, and Mom and Dad don’t have to take off work.”
Students also could get immunizations and annual checkups at the clinic, he said.
“Students will go to the nurse for the normal things,” Murry said, such as stomach aches, a fall on the playground or vision checks. “A student will go to the clinic whenever they have the need for medical attention that the nurse might not normally be able to provide — shots, medications, etc.
“Our concern is just to make sure kids’ health is taken care of. … Then, if they want to choose to go to their own family doctor to have more services, they can.”
The clinic will be on the northeast corner of the school, Murry said, and the school district is doing most of the renovation work. Exterior doors are being replaced so parents can enter without having to go all the way through the school, and plumbing will be added.
Clements said a team from the state Department of Education visited Ida Burns Elementary School before the grant was awarded.
“It was a great interview, when the state came and assessed [the school]. We were on pins and needles if we would get it,” he said. “I think the thing that pushed us over the top was how the community and hospital got on board, not just our school system.”
Clements added that the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce was supportive, among other entities.
A letter from the state Department of Education’s director of school health services, Jerri Clark, commended the district on “an exceptional site visit.”
Murry said the district’s wellness coordinator, Janet Taylor, heard about the grant at a meeting and approached Conway Regional. The district applied for the grant a year ago and didn’t get it.
“We were rejected, believe it or not, because we had the wrong font” on the application, Murry said. “We said, ‘We’re going to come back and do it again.’”
Murry said the grant starts with $150,000 this year, then “draws down” every year. “By the sixth year, you’re on your own,” he said. “Right now, I don’t see any reason we would not be able to continue.
The other schools that received the grants were Rose Bud, Booneville and Chicot elementary schools; and Fouke Elementary School in the Fouke School District.
The grant money comes from the Arkansas Tobacco Excise Tax created by Arkansas Act 180 in 2009 to be used to promote health, wellness and academic achievement in schools across the state, according to a state Department of Education press release.
“It’s a great day for us, as far as the school,” Clements said, “and I think it’s a great day for the community to have the opportunity that the state trusted us with having this.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-5671 or email@example.com.