Beginning April 2019, in collaboration with Jackson County Public Schools, Blue Ridge Health will open new school based health centers at Fairview Elementary School and Smoky Mountain High School.
The seventh and eighth SBHCs operated by BRH in Western North Carolina, the sites will provide primary care medical services to start. Services will be provided during school hours, three days per week, to all Fairview Elementary and Smoky Mountain High students. Additional access to comprehensive primary care – including family medicine, pediatrics, counseling, psychiatry and nutrition – will be available at Blue Ridge Health-Jackson located at 293 Hospital Road in Sylva.
SBHCs are practices that bring preventive and acute care, as well as health education and other services, to children and adolescents at schools. Each community determines which services are provided based on students’ needs. All BRH SBHCs are satellite practices of the organization and are fully licensed outpatient health facilities. They are staffed by BRH pediatric and adolescent health specialists, including nurse practitioners, physician assistants, registered nurses, licensed clinical social workers (counselors) and a consulting medical director.
Funding from The Great Smokies Health Foundation ($5,000) and The Foundation for a Healthy Carolina ($25,000) made opening these health centers possible, by providing needed medical and IT equipment, furniture and supplies. The SBHC will function like a medical practice in the school and, as such, there will be a charge for most services provided by medical providers and behavioral health counselors. All insurances are accepted at the SBHC. Those without insurance or with high deductible plans can qualify for a sliding fee scale based on income and household size. No one is turned away for an inability to pay.
Studies show that the presence of a school based health center is associated with improved educational status, including higher grade point averages and higher rates of high school completion.
SBHC staff work closely with school nurses and key school support staff to identify and treat student health issues.
“The addition of a school based health center represents our district’s commitment to our students well-being,” said JCPS Superintendent Kim Elliott. “We want to promote the utilization of preventive care services whenever possible and, nationwide, school based health centers have been demonstrated to help prevent chronic absenteeism and provide access for families in a way that encourages regular utilization.”
These new sites in Jackson County will be the second and third SBHC practices opened by BRH this year. The first was opened in Polk County in January. It is another step by BRH toward its goal of increasing collaboration with public school districts in WNC. Six additional SBHCs operated by BRH are located in Henderson and stakeholders are currently exploring the possibility of offering these services to the Catamount School beginning in the fall of 2019.
“We opened our first school based health center in Henderson County in 1996, and the program has grown significantly since then,” said Tammy Greenwell, chief operations officer for Blue Ridge Health and president of the N.C. School Based Health Alliance. “In our experience, the addition of on-site healthcare services in schools yields positive results for the well-being and academic success of students in the district. This has made the program a highly sought after solution across our region and nationwide.”
SBHCs primarily operate in communities designated as Medically Underserved Areas and Health Professional Shortage Areas and play a critical role in providing students with primary care. Across the country, more than 2,000 SBHCs – one-third of which are located in rural communities – serve more than two million students.
This collaborative approach in Jackson County is intended to take care of students’ health and well-being while supporting attendance and academic success. It improves access to care for students so that students and parents do not need to miss school or work to receive care they need. Students and staff can come to the practice by appointment or walk-in for routine healthcare, minor injuries or to be treated when they are ill.
The BRH Fairview Elementary School and Smoky Mountain High School sites will be open three days per week to start, with plans to expand hours in the next academic year. Those wanting to schedule an appointment or seeking more information about the health center should call 233-2280. Like all Blue Ridge Health practices in WNC, appointments are encouraged but walk-ins are welcome.