The Little Rock School District today held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Stephens Elementary on Monday to celebrate the opening of a new school-based health center made possible by a grant from the state Education Department.
The clinic is a partnership between several organizations, most notably Arkansas Children’s Hospital, which will offer care to Stephens students and their siblings through an on-site pediatric nurse practitioner. Students at the LRSD’s Bale and Wakefield
The school-based clinic was previously located at nearby Franklin Elementary, one of three sites the LRSD closed at the end of the last school year amid much controversy. For the 2017-18 school year, Franklin students were reassigned to Stephens, a K-5 campus that now has an enrollment of around 600 after the Franklin consolidation. Wakefield and Bale are home to a combined 1,100 students. That means the new clinic could have a significantly broader reach than its precursor, should most parents opt-in to the program.
After opening remarks from LRSD Superintendent Mike Poore and Principle Phillip Carlock, the CEO of Children’s Hospital, Marcy Doderer, cited data showing Arkansas ranks near the bottom in the nation for children’s health and well-being. “We at Arkansas Children’s find that to be unacceptable and actually a bit embarrassing — which is why we are pleased to stand here in partnership with the Little Rock School District today,” she said. “We have to figure out how to get to these families — where they live, where they learn, where they play.”
The clinic, Doderer said, is “set up to provide primary care to the children in this school. It keeps kids here and avoids a trip to the doctor’s office. It keeps parents or grandparents or guardians at work … It keeps kids in the classroom as much as possible. … If a child can be seen at a clinic in a school, it might avoid an unnecessary ER visit after hours.”
Allison Hester, a pediatric nurse practitioner, will spend 20 hours per week on-site at the Stephens clinic, which includes two examination rooms and a small lab in addition to administrative space and a waiting area. Hester was previously the nurse practitioner at the Franklin clinic. In addition to Hester, the campus will retain its school nurse. But, Hester explained, “the whole point is to provide things a school nurse cannot … to take things to the next level.” As a nurse practitioner, she is able to prescribe certain medications, provide vaccinations and refer students for other medical services. The goal, she said, is to ensure students have a “medical home,” meaning a primary care physician they see regularly.
The clinic also includes a separate wing for counseling and mental health services, which will be provided by three providers partnering with the district, Preferred Family Healthcare, New Beginnings Behavioral Health Services and The Pointe Outpatient Behavioral Health Services. Lisa Williams, the LRSD’s mental health services coordinator, said there will be a staff of three licensed therapists and four paraprofessionals on site. Every school in the district has some behavioral health staff on site, she said.
The Stephens site is one of about 30 school-based health centers in the state funded by grants from the Arkansas Department of Education. The LRSD grant is now in its fifth and final year, after which it will be sustained by the district, Children’s Hospital and patient revenue (such as billing ARKids or other insurance).