FORT SMITH — The School District should be closer to its Vision 2023 plan goal of providing increased access to resources for students with its new School-Based Health Center.
The center, between Darby Middle School and Tilles Elementary School at 1420 N. H St., opened this fall and has more than 500 patients enrolled.
The center is a partnership with Mercy Hospital and The Guidance Center and is paid for through a $542,000 grant from the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education. The center can work with a primary care provider or as the primary care provider, and the goal is to give students, staff and their families access to health care while at school so students can be better prepared to learn.
“If you feel good in school, then you can learn better in school,” said Zena Featherston Marshall, the district’s executive director of communication.
Services include routine physical exams; diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illness; treatment of minor injuries; vision, hearing and medical screening; limited immunizations; laboratory testing; health and nutrition education; prescription medications; mental health awareness; mental health screening and behavioral health care.
Kerri Tucker, school-based health center coordinator, said the most common services so far have been for covid-19 testing, and for sore or strep throat. Common mental health services are for ADHD and depression, and Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center provides a therapist for those services, she said.
“Prevention is also a big piece of this,” Tucker said. “We’re really trying to work with our students and their families to try to prevent as much as we can, as far as chronic illnesses and managing those illnesses. So we are attending schoolwide events, and trying to give education in that way. We have also set up — with the support of the Darby and Tilles center — classroom presentations. So we’ve reached over 400 students with classroom presentations so far, as far as health and wellness information, calming effects on health and all of those kinds of topics to help prevent stress so it won’t be a problem in the future.”
The center is intended to serve all students, regardless of their ability to pay. Insurances will be billed for the students covered, and center staff can help families apply for ARKids First and Medicaid insurance, when appropriate.
“There are a lot of barriers for some families in attaining health care that’s necessary for healthy outcomes for the students to be able to concentrate and learn,” Tucker said. “So we want to reduce all of those barriers. That’s why it’s important to have it in a location that’s convenient, and a place that they trust. It reduces the time away from school for students, and it reduces the time away from work for parents.”
Other schools that received the same grant to implement school-based health centers by the 2021-2022 school year include Fountain Lake Elementary School, Jessieville Elementary School and Sheridan High School.
Tucker said the health centers are collaborating on a state level to work through problems and discuss future ideas.
Cedarville, Magazine and Springdale schools have been helpful because they already had health centers, Tucker said. They provide vision and dental services, which Fort Smith plans to add, she said.
“We continue to rely on the network of school-based health centers for ideas and ways that we can begin to build something that’s unique to Fort Smith, and serves our community in the best ways,” Featherston Marshall said.