Bring healthcare to K12 students—just a short walk from class

By: | January 25, 2017

Some parents of students in Magazine, Arkansas, can’t afford the gas to drive their sick child 50 miles to the nearest doctor, says Brett Bunch, superintendent of the town’s school district.

Some parents of students in Magazine, Arkansas, can’t afford the gas to drive their sick child 50 miles to the nearest doctor, says Brett Bunch, superintendent of the town’s school district.

And often, they don’t have the time either because the closest health providers are 20 miles away—or farther.

So administrators offered a solution—thanks in part to several state organizations, a grant, and physicians in the region who were willing to help out.

The rural district, with unanimous community support, received a five-year $500,000 state grant to run a school-based health center.

The Magazine Wellness Center, which opened in December 2011, now provides basic physical, mental and dental services to students, teachers, staff and community members.

And it’s just a few minutes’ walk from classrooms—the clinic sits adjacent to the elementary school and across a state highway from the junior high and high schools.

“It saves us on seat time with students and even with our staff,” says Bunch. “It’s very handy to be able to go right over there. A kid with a stomachache or fever can see the doctor and get medication. Usually, the kids can be back in class within 30 minutes.”

Funding and renovating

Prior to Bunch’s tenure, the school board and then-Superintendent Sandra Beck decided the high-poverty community would benefit tremendously from healthcare right on campus.

The project’s funding came six years ago from an Arkansas School-Based Health Center Grant, a competitive program funded by a state tobacco tax increase passed in 2009.

The program is a collaboration of the state Department of Education, Office of School Health Services, state Department of Health, state Department of Human Services and federal Medicaid in the Schools program.

As soon as the grant was secured, construction workers converted a six-classroom school into doctors’ offices, exam rooms and a waiting room. The district relocated the two classrooms that were still in use to the main elementary school.

The grant covered the space, maintenance, custodial, utilities, and salary of the center’s wellness coordinator.

The doctor is in

Magazine Wellness Center provides mammograms, blood tests and physical checkups for athletes, among other treatments. Since it opened:

Dentist has performed:

  • 758 restorations
  • 18 root canals
  • 1,600 cleanings

Optometrist has performed:

  • 2,800 exams

and provided eyeglasses for:

  • 368 students

Officials also had to find area physicians to staff and operate the health center, all of whom were based at least 20 miles away. Beck and the center’s coordinator, Donna Robinson, struck an agreement with a nearby hospital to provide doctors.

Robinson now schedules appointments between patients and doctors and serves as the liaison between the providers and district administrators. Medicaid pays for the students’ health services unless parents have their own health insurance.

The biggest challenge this past year was paying for costs and services after the five-year grant ran out. It was the first year providers had to sign a lease to rent the building from the district.

“It was made clear that our district does not wish to make a dime from the providers, but rather we want to ensure we cover our costs and if that cost ever declines we would make an adjustment to their leases,” Bunch says.

The center’s first priority is caring for students—then teachers, staff and the community at large. It has treated more than 10,000 people since it opened. Last year, the district began offering one-day-a-week service to students from neighboring Western Yell County School District, another community in need.

Proactive health

Every month, a wellness center committee—comprised of school personnel and representatives from the county health and state education departments—meets with Bunch to discuss cases and to ensure the student, the staff and the provider needs are met.

Not only does the clinic offer children and their parents better and more consistent health care, but it can also nip a serious health problem in the bud.

“One kid had a retinal scan and the optometrist saw something that forced him to immediately send the child to a specialist,” Bunch says. “The kid was eventually treated. It’s a great story.”