State funding to help new school-based health centers

INDEPENDENCE COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - Two Region 8 school districts will soon have more than just a school nurse.

Cord-Charlotte Elementary School in Charlotte and Southside Elementary School in Batesville are among 20 Arkansas schools to receive state funding for school-based health centers.

Southside will use the $500,000 grant to expand its current health center to a new location and Cord-Charlotte will build its first center.

Both health centers will offer physical and mental health services and dental and vision care.

"A lot of our kids do have some type of insurance to cover them, but the problem is the transportation," Cord-Charlotte Elementary Principal Susi Epperson said.

Principal Epperson said many students' parents cannot afford the drive to the doctor.

"It's hard for them to take off for those colds, sneezes, earaches and things like that," Epperson said.

Now these parents won't have to, thanks to the grant. Cord-Charlotte will turn an old house on its elementary campus into a full-functioning medical clinic.

"They'll be able to send their kids here to school and if they have an earache or they're just not feeling that good and need to see a doctor, they can walk across the parking lot or the child will be transported if they're at the Newark campus," Epperson said.

Epperson said the new health center will turn an all-day trip to the doctor into a several minute check-up.

"This will definitely decrease our absenteeism and help parents at the same time," Epperson said.

Southside Schools are already seeing less absentees. The district started a school-based health center on its own a year ago.

"It's a little on the smaller scale," said Kristie Jenkins, the Southside School District health coordinator. "We did what we could and it's not a bad facility at all, but we've already outgrown it. Any time you go in, it's a full waiting room."

This is where the grant comes in. Southside will build a new facility on the elementary school campus with seven extra beds and also be able to offer dental and vision care. 

"That's gonna mean a lot less time out of the classroom for students and teachers," Jenkins said.

Students, teachers and parents cannot complain.

"I had to go earlier in the year for something and I didn't have to miss a lot of work," Jenkins said. "I went over on my lunch actually and it was very convenient."

"I have five children in the school district, all at five different schools so it is a big deal," said Brittany Bennett, the Cedar Ridge School District tobacco prevention coordinator.

"We're ready to have health care at another level for our students first, faculty and staff, and some of our community as well," Southside Schools Superintendent Roger Rich said. "We know that we'll have a stronger student, we'll have a better community and we'll have a better workforce if we can take care of those needs. I think we'll see the benefits for years to come."

The school districts went through a competitive application process to obtain the health centers.

Epperson hopes to open the Cedar Ridge School District health center in January for mental and physical care. Dental and vision will come later once the district establishes providers.

Epperson said physical care will be available 12 hours every week, but will increase as the center gets more patients. Mental health care hours will be Monday through Friday and have a 24-hour call center.

The center will first open for students and faculty, then their families and the community.

Superintendent Rich said the school board will set an open date for the Southside School District health center.

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