School-based health clinic at Harrison Elementary marks 22nd anniversary of serving children

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By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward

For some children, school is not only a place to learn but also a safe haven when they’re sick. The staff at Harrison Elementary embraces this additional role and values the medical professionals who work alongside them every day.

“This model fits perfectly into Superintendent Caulk’s vision of every child succeeding. We are able to meet the child where they are and provide support, eliminating barriers to learning,” said Debbie Boian, the district’s health and wellness coordinator.

Dr. Thomas Young recognized the need at Harrison years ago, and his initiative at the University of Kentucky led to now eight school-based health clinics in Fayette County Public Schools.

“A federal grant turned into a sustainable project. It’s a nice partnership between community health people and the school system,” he said.

The Healthy Kids Clinic at Harrison Elementary functions much like a traditional doctor’s office (Photo Provided)

Harrison paused this week to thank Young for his ongoing service and to mark the 22nd anniversary of its clinic, where students are treated for everything from runny noses and asthma to head lice and ADHD. Title I social worker Toni Dunn uses events like Family Night to promote the health clinic, which also offers flu shots and mental health screenings.

“When parents call and say their child is sick, I encourage them to come to the clinic,” said Dunn, who has worked at Harrison since the facility opened. “It has made a difference in our attendance, and you have made a difference with our children because we deal with the whole child,” she told Young at a small reception.

Young’s UK project initially launched through the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department; later, the Healthy Kids Clinics moved under the umbrella of HealthFirst Bluegrass Inc.

“Working with kids fits our mission and puts us in the community, and we really appreciate the partnership and support of the schools,” said Bob Franko, CEO of HealthFirst Bluegrass. “We have a lot to be proud of here.”

Staff at the Harrison clinic includes APRN Angie Sturgeon, RN Megan Bacon, behavioral health therapist Katie Washington, and clerk Marilyn Spillman. One morning a week, Young is there for ADHD evaluations and medication management.

They work closely with Dunn, the child guidance specialist, and the school psychologist; clinic referrals can also originate with classroom teachers. The team invites families into the discussion, too, as they assess a child’s needs and develop a treatment plan.

“We want their input and their concerns. The staff knows the families, and the school has built a nice trust,” Young noted.

The clinic workspace lies just off the main office near the front of the building. Harrison Elementary is a downtown school where nearly 90 percent of students qualify for free/reduced meals. In addition, the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter is only a few blocks away, which leads to an increased student turnover rate. Many Harrison families lack a primary care provider, which is why the school clinic is vital in this neighborhood.

“All these children would not get services if not in their school,” Young said. “Parents are less likely to miss work, and kids are less likely to go to the emergency room (for routine care). It not only helps the health of the child but also impacts the health of the family.”

The Fayette model was one of the first in the country to focus on establishing clinics in elementary schools, according to Young.

“If we can make a difference early, it has much more long-term impact,” he said. “If we can keep kids healthy, they have a much better chance of being successful in school and in life.”

Tammy L. Lane is editor of the Fayette County Public Schools website

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