The Rose Bud School District didn’t give up on getting a grant to establish a school-based health clinic, and it paid off, Superintendent Luke Lovins said.
The district, on its third time to apply, received the $540,000 grant this year.
“We waited very patiently, and when the grant came out, we were lucky enough to be one of the five. … I say lucky, but it was a lot of hard work,” he said.
The grant, given over a five-year period, was awarded by the Arkansas Department of Education, the Arkansas Department of Health and Medicaid in the Schools.
The clinic, east of the elementary school campus, is scheduled to open in January for students, staff and the community. It will be in a former maintenance building, which is undergoing a $300,000 renovation, Lovins said.
Lovins credited Rose Bud Elementary School Principal Melissa Kirkpatrick with doing the bulk of the work and tweaking the application each year.
“She was passionate about it and worked hard the past three years,” he said, adding that she “did a fantastic job of sitting down and brainstorming on how to make it better.”
The almost 800-student school district is hiring a clinic coordinator, which is required by the grant. Interviews were still underway last week for the position, the superintendent said.
The district is partnering with ARcare, a federally qualified health center, which will lease space on campus and provide an advanced-practice nurse and possibly other staff members, Lovins said.
“We’re hoping to have a dentist a few days a month. We’ve included an X-ray machine, so we can do X-rays on site. We’re trying to do all this that some [districts] don’t do till year three or four,” Lovins said.
In year six, after the grant runs out, the district will be responsible for the coordinator’s salary and supplies.
Lovins said the cost of running the clinic will be reduced with the lease agreement with ARcare and a dentist. However, he said, “even if we’re in the red, it’s worth it.”
“The grant will pay for X-ray equipment, so if ARcare pulls out, we’d still have that machine,” he said. Not that Lovins expects that to happen: “ARcare is just a great health partner,” he said.
The school nurse, Jeannie Cook, will remain on staff and will assess students to see if they need to go to the clinic, Lovins said.
“Students who don’t feel well will be sent to the nurse. She’ll make the decision to give them a Tylenol and send them back to class” or see if they need further medical attention, he said. “I hope this makes life a little easier for our school nurse.”
Cook said she cannot wait for the clinic to open.
“It’s going to be so great,” she said. Cook said the community had a doctor’s office several years ago, but it closed. “The community really suffered from it,” she said.
She will look at a student and decide if he or she needs advanced care. Cook said she will call a parent, and if the family has a primary-care physician who is outside of ARcare, she will get a referral. The student will be checked out of class, escorted to the clinic, treated and walked back to class.
If the parents can’t come to the appointment, a telemedicine software system will let the parent “be in the room,” she said.
One of the biggest needs the clinic can meet is helping to give immunizations, Cook said.
“Immunizations are a big deal with every school nurse,” she said. Cook said she sends out at least 150 letters each May telling parents what immunizations their children need to get over the summer, “but lo and behold, they don’t; then [providers] are running out of the vaccine.”
In the grant application, Cook reported that 65 percent of students in 2016 didn’t meet immunization requirements. According to the grant proposal, 61.2 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
With the clinic on campus, Cook said, a student can walk over, get a shot and go back to class.
Lovins said being able to provide immediate health care is a major advantage of the on-campus clinic.
“My goal as a district leader is to keep our students and staff on our campus,” he said.
If students or staff go to a doctor’s appointment, they miss a half or whole day of school, he said.
“The closest clinic to us is 10 to 15 minutes away in Quitman,” he said, adding that other health facilities are in Heber Springs and Searcy.
“[Students or staff] can get assistance and get what they need in 45 minutes to an hour, unless it’s something major. We’re really hoping to keep our kids in the classroom. Teachers, before or after school, can shoot over there and see a health professional and get a prescription or whatever they need.”
Cook said the district has an agreement with Johnson Pharmacy in Quitman to deliver necessary medication.
Lovins said “physicals would be a big deal for us on campus.” He said all athletes, bus drivers and other employees require annual or biannual physicals, which could be done at the clinic.
Lovins, who is starting his second year in the district, said he thinks the location of the clinic on campus was a key factor in the district being accepted for the grant on the third application.
Before, the district had planned to renovate a former administration building, which was old and going to take more extensive work. The maintenance building is “more of a shell,” smaller and will take less renovation, he said.
“It’s on the corner of campus by our elementary drop-off with plenty of parking,” Lovins said.
The district has hired architect Joshua Stewart of StewArch Architecture in Searcy and Moix Construction as construction manager for the project. Lovins said architectural plans are being finalized, and the grant will pay for the renovation.
He said the school added onto the transportation building to make space for the maintenance supplies, which was needed anyway, Lovins said.
“It all kind of fell together,” he said.
Kirkpatrick, who is starting her seventh year in the district, said she saw a memo about the grant from the state Department of Education and talked to then superintendent Chris Nail, who wanted to pursue the grant, too.
Kirkpatrick agreed with Lovins that changing the clinic location probably helped get the application approved.
“It was going to be in the center of campus. Now it’s on the outside … which is great because it’s easier for the community to access. That’s why we had such community support. The grant focuses on school; we focused on the community,” she said.
The clinic will emphasize preventive care, she said, “which is not what our population — really anybody — does.”
She said the third grant application included soliciting input from all stakeholders — including state representatives, parents and an advisory committee of students — about how the clinic would improve student achievement.
“The commitment and passion of community made it successful,” she said.
Seventh-grader Jacob Kelley and senior Gustavoo Diaz were two students picked for the advisory committee.
“I thought it was a good thing for Rose Bud, for students and the community, said Gustavoo, 17. “We have to drive like an hour, maybe 30 minutes from here, for a clinic or hospital.”
He said he has two brothers, and one has a child, “so I think he’d use it if he needed to.”
Jacob said he was confused when he first heard about the clinic, but he asked his mother for more details when he got home. When she told him it was like a doctor’s office on campus, he said, “Maybe nurse Jeannie won’t have so many sick kids to deal with; this is going to be fun.”
The biggest advantage, he said, “is less sick kids a year.”
The four other elementary schools that were awarded grants for clinics are Ida Burns Elementary School in Conway; Booneville, Chicot and Fouke. There are 31 other schools in the state that have school-based health centers, according to an Arkansas Department of Education press release.
“There is a clear, distinct connection between good health and academic achievement,” Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key said in the release.
Lovins said he’s sure “there are many other positive externalities that will come to light once the clinic opens.”
But it will open, because the district didn’t give up.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-5671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.