No one knows what it will look like, but Murray County Schools officials are planning to create a school-based health clinic and are tentatively naming Chatsworth Elementary School as a possible hub. Before they make a decision, school and health officials are seeking community input to “help design” the center.
Officials with Georgia Mountains Health, a nonprofit community medical organization that will oversee staffing and funding for the school clinic, joined school officials at Northwest Elementary School Tuesday night at one of two public hearings.
The second meeting is at Chatsworth Elementary School on Tuesday, March 12 at 5:30 p.m.
“We want to get information from the community out of these meetings and also from surveys sent home to parents,” said Allison Oxford, instructional support services coordinator for the school system. “What we know currently is that we will open a school-based health clinic in the fall of 2013-14 school year.”
School officials anticipate the clinic to be staffed with doctors, physician assistants and nurses who will provide primary care to students, community members and employees who have private insurance, Medicaid, PeachCare for Kids or no insurance at all (which will be covered by federal grants and a $25 copay).
Steven Miracle, president of Georgia Mountains Health, said parents and students “will ultimately decide what this is going to be” because they’ll be the ones benefiting the most from the clinic.
“There are often barriers for getting medical care for children, so we want to look at putting health care services where it’s close and convenient,” Miracle said. “There is a greater likelihood that children will get healthcare if it’s inside school. And that’s important because students with poor health are also poor learners. This will decrease tardiness or absences from class and — in time — it will increase grade point averages. We know healthy students make better learners.”
Several parents at the Tuesday meeting said they felt a school-based clinic would be a bad use of taxpayer money because a Georgia Mountains Health clinic is already in downtown Chatsworth, about a mile from Chatsworth Elementary. Miracle said taxpayer money “only pays for the uninsured,” while the planning phase of the school clinic is being funded by a $10,000 grant from Emory University, a private research college in Atlanta.
How the clinic will be funded if it is implemented will be unclear until officials decide exactly what its function will be, Miracle said.
“Although we do receive some federal funds to pay for those without insurance, the decisions about what this clinic actually is will be made by the community and local organizations,” he said. “School-based health clinics are unique to our community but this is not a unique situation. There are several in Georgia and more than 2,000 in the nation. The nearest one is opening up in Ringgold within a few months.”
Another concern several parents had was favoring one school over another, but several school officials said all schools will benefit from a clinic despite its ultimate location.
“We already have teleconference software in all the schools,” said Mike Pritchett, principal for Chatsworth Elementary. “It hooks you up with the school you want and enables tele-medicine (where a doctor can treat patients remotely through telecommunications). So students who don’t feel good do not have to leave school to get a check-up. They can teleconference in and the primary care doctor can diagnosis a student or determine whether or not a student needs more care.
“The telecommunication technology is already in place at our schools. That’s not something we need to put money towards ... I see a lot of value in saving educational time for my students by making sure they get care within schools. I don't want them to be taken out of school where they’ll miss valuable time in the classroom.”
“Adequate healthcare, especially preventative care, is vital to the success of our students and our community,” she said. “We invite all parents, grandparents, community members and healthcare professionals to participate in these important meetings. This is just one more way we can work with cooperating agencies to provide support services for the students of Murray County.”
The next planning meeting for a possible school-based health clinic in Murray County is Tuesday, March 12 at 5:30 p.m. at Chatsworth Elementary School at 500 Green Road.