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Student health-center opening at Cumming Elementary

Forsyth County Schools

Sarah Taylor, Forsyth County Schools associate superintendent for Student Services, and Health Services Facilitator Heidi Avila explain what the new school-based health center will look like at Cumming Elementary School after the school board approved a memorandum of understanding with Georgia Highlands Medical Services to open one at its Sept. 20 meeting.

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Forsyth County Schools is partnering with Georgia Highlands Medical Services to open a school-based health center at Cumming Elementary School.

The Forsyth County Board of Education approved a memorandum of understanding with the facility at its Sept. 20 meeting. Georgia Highlands Medical Services is a private nonprofit community health center founded in 1979. It provides services to over 5,000 children, 90 percent of them low-income. In the past four years, it’s grown from one pediatric provider to four.

While an opening date has not been set, the school-based health center at Cumming Elementary School will provide on-site medical and mental health services for students and staff, especially to those who do not have a primary care physician, to promote health and academic success.

Sarah Taylor, Forsyth County Schools associate superintendent for student services, said Cumming Elementary School was chosen for the school-based health center because of its location and Title I status. The plan is for the school to collect parents’ consent for their student to use the clinic at the start of the year, and when they need to visit the clinic, they can be on the phone with them but won’t need to show up to the school in person.

“Having the school-based health center will allow both the students and the staff to obtain immediate medical care so that they may return to school and work without delay once it’s safe to do so,” Taylor said. “The health center will have the ability to accept individual and family insurance, and if they’re uninsured, the health center will have a very reasonable sliding fee scale.”

Forsyth County Schools Health Services Facilitator Heidi Avila said Emory University’s Department of Pediatrics has been advocating for these type of health centers for the past 10 years, working on grants through the Georgia Department of Educations to make them possible.

Avila said Georgia Highlands Medical Services has already received funding through the Health Resources and Services Administration and Georgia Primary Care Association as well as secured a nurse practitioner and licensed clinical social worker for the clinic at Cumming Elementary School.

Currently, there are 54 school-based health centers in Georgia, with many more in the planning stages, Avila said. The Georgia School-Based Health Alliance works to promote and support school-based health centers across the state.

“This is not new, but I think we’re going to start seeing this a lot across our counties,” Avila said. “Across our country, there’s 2,500, so there’s definitely a growing [need] for this.”

The school-based health center at Cumming Elementary School will operate independently from the school but will work in partnership with the school nurses. It will also have a secure exterior entrance and exit to the building and will include two exam rooms and a lobby area.

“[Students and staff] can be offered same-day sick visits, well-care appointments, completion of state required immunizations, sports physicals, completion of health forms that are required for student registration, and assistance with care plans and preventative treatment to manage chronic health conditions,” Avila said. “Again, for students that may not have access to those services, our school community will certainly benefit from this partnership.”

Avila said the school can expect to have healthier students with the opening of the clinic, and in turn, see attendance rates rise. She added that the school-based health center will allow families to remain at work while providing them with more financial security.

“We know that healthier students learn better on a larger scale for our state,” Avila said. “This also helps reduce Medicaid costs and reduce emergency room visits.”

School Board Vice Chairwoman Kristin Morrissey said the initiative seems like a great way to build trust and get students and their families in the habit of seeing a doctor on a regular basis.

Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden said the district is working through “some facility issues” before it can open the school-based health center, but that it may end up being opened in stages. He said more information would be announced later.

The next Forsyth County Board of Education meeting is Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 6 pm.

Reach Chamian Cruz at 770-847-8079. Follow her on Twitter @xchamian.