Students and staff at Cumming Elementary could soon receive health care from Georgia Highlands Medical Center directly on campus during the school day.
The Forsyth County Board of Education voted at its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 20, to approve a partnership between the nonprofit community health center and the school district so they can provide an on-site clinic for families in need at the school.
“A school-based health center is a partnership between a school and a community health organization, and they provide on-site medical and mental health services for students and staff, certainly with the goal of promoting the health and academic success of our students,” Health Services Facilitator Heidi Avila said.
Avila explained that Georgia Highlands leaders came to Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden with the idea for the partnership after it received funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Georgia Primary Care Association to begin a school-based center.
Together, the nonprofit and district leaders decided Cumming Elementary, one of five Title I schools in the county, would be a perfect fit for the project.
The school will provide a physical space for the school-based health center on campus with a secured exterior entrance and exit along with two exam rooms and a lobby area for patients.
After that space is ready, Georgia Highlands nurse practitioners and clinical social workers will run the center, providing primary care, mental health care and oral care screening and treatment to students and staff.
Through that care, they will also be able to offer physical exams, prescribe and dispense medication, bill public and private insurance for reimbursable services, conduct clinical and lab tests and treat chronic illnesses.
“By providing better access to health services, we will, in return, have healthier students, which creates an increase in our attendance rates,” Avila said. “This will also allow our families to remain and be at work, providing them with more financial security.”
Avila said school-based health centers overall have been proven to also lower Medicaid costs and lower emergency room visits, which is part of the reason why centers such as these have grown in popularity throughout the state and country.
Avila said there are currently 54 other school-based health centers in Georgia, and there are many more in the process of opening.
Principal Jordan Livermore believes these centers are a “huge, huge help” to families like those at Cumming Elementary.
“Because even though Georgia Highlands is fairly close to us, our parents have a very difficult time leaving work and taking their children to the doctor,” Livermore said. “Having this on site is just going to give them access like they’ve never had before.”
He and other school leaders hope that the entire Cumming Elementary community can benefit from the center in more ways than one.
“We’re really excited,” Livermore said.
Bearden said the school does not currently have an opening date set for the center, and updates on the construction will be announced later.
The board unanimously voted to approve the center and partnership, and community members can find more information about the project on the district’s website at www.forsyth.k12.ga.us.
“Georgia Highlands has been a great partner in education to Forsyth County Schools for many, many years,” Bearden said. “We’re all here to serve children, and we just think this is an opportunity to serve our children even better in the Cumming community.”