JONESBORO — School officials and health care professionals have been out in force gauging public sentiment on the health needs of Clayton County and how best to address those needs.
Dr. Tamera Foley is the teaching and learning executive director for Clayton County Public Schools. She and others have been leading the charge, holding monthly stakeholder meetings throughout the county and gathering input from residents on possibly forming a school-based health center.
The centers — staffed by health care professionals — generally provide students primary, preventive, mental and social health care services and are designed to be easily accessible to children within the school setting.
Officials point to declines in school absenteeism, emergency room visits and hospitalizations where school-based health centers have been established. They said the effect is that the healthier students spend more time in the classroom and parents spend less time away from work as a result of having in-school health services.
Foley spoke to residents earlier this month about the prospects of opening a center and what types of health services it could provide students in the district.
School board member Judy Johnson, State Rep. Valencia Stovall (D-Ellenwood) and State School Nurse Specialist Georgina Howard were among those attending the meeting, the district’s third so far this year.
“You are definitely on the right path with what’s going on around the state,” said Stovall. “And I’m here with you.”
Georgia has seven school-based health centers, which are increasingly popular. There are nearly 2,000 school-based health centers operating nationwide, as revealed in the latest National Assembly on School-Based Health Care census.
The specific services provided by the centers vary based on community needs and resources as determined through collaborations between the community, the school district and the health care providers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration.
Officials said a center in Clayton County could take one of several forms — concentrated at one school or implemented at all schools.
The idea is still in its infancy and requires months of surveys and information gathering to determine the feasibility of a school-based health center, added organizers of the local stakeholder meetings.
Officials said any center that would come about would likely be funded largely through grants just as the planning meetings have been funded with grant dollars.
Dr. Veda Johnson, an associate professor of pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine and director of the Pediatric Urban Health Program, announced last summer that Clayton County would receive a planning grant to help fund its efforts.
The grants are funded through a $3 million gift from The Zeist Foundation aimed at helping improve outcomes for at-risk children in metropolitan Atlanta and throughout the state.
The next stakeholder meeting is Dec. 16. The location and time is to be announced.
Foley said there were will be meetings in 2014 as well — Jan. 15, Feb. 18, March 14, April 16, May 15 and June 16. Additionally, the school district plans to host a health fair March 15 at Sequoyah Middle, 95 Valley Hill Road SW in Riverdale.
Comments and suggestions for the school-based health center will be accepted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.