The school-based health center in Sandy Springs’ Lake Forest Elementary, established in 2013, has seen positive changes through providing needed healthcare for their school community. It is the first school in Fulton County to host a board-approved, school-based health center offering onsite medical services. Funded by a grant through the Urban Health Program at Emory University and spearheaded by Fulton County Schools Coordinator of Student Health Services Lynne Meadows, the center began in partnership with West End Medical Center and serves as an onsite family practice. The center provides a full range of healthcare services so students can avoid health-related absences and get support, which previously was a significant barrier to succeeding in the classroom. The school serves a student population that is largely living at or below the poverty level and with language barriers, and securing medical treatment for a student could take multiple days. LFE determined that access to health care at the school might ensure more consistent student attendance and, by extension, academic success would improve.
Family Health Centers of Georgia (FHCGA) provides the four-person medical staff which includes a nurse practitioner who can prescribe, a certified medical assistant, a health educator and a behavioral health counselor. In addition to treating students for illness, injury or behavioral health issues, the staff welcomes scheduled and walk-in visits for LFE parents, siblings of students, LFE alumni as well as school faculty and staff. FHCGA works in tandem with the regular school clinic to provide extended healthcare as needed beyond what the clinic is qualified to offer.
Assisted by Cluster School Nurse Paula Abbey, Meadows oversees the staff and leads collaborative monthly meetings with other FHCGA personnel to review data, operations, and plans. The success bears out with data that shows the dramatic decrease in absenteeism resulting in more “seat time” due to healthcare accessibility and affordability (see graph below). In school year 2016-17, the clinic referred 421 students to the center and 71% of the students referred to the SBHC missed 0 days of school, 15% missed 1 day, 9% missed 2 days and the remaining 5% missed 3-5 days. This achievement has inspired the recent launch of a similar center in south Fulton at College Park Elementary School in August of 2017.
The biggest problem to date appears to be the need for more space, and the center staff is strategizing how to find funding to increase rooms. Since their initial seed money and funding has come through grants, this operation comes at no cost to Fulton County taxpayers, supporting another pillar in the Strategic Plan 2022: Fiscal Responsibility, managing and protecting public funds and assets through efficient and effective use of available resources.
As Meadows says, “You can have top teachers and administrators, but if the students don’t have their basic health needs met, it’s not going to work”. And in a time when the healthcare environment is in transition, this center is, as FHCs puts it, “the caulk that prevents many children and adolescents from falling through the cracks”.