Fort Smith School District Evaluates How to Continue School Health Center Once Grant Funds Run Out, Receives Year of Service Updates

FORT SMITH – The school board is considering how to keep its school health center open once the grant ends in 2026.

The center opened in 2021 as one of the district’s Vision 2023 plans to provide greater access to health care for students, their family and staff. It is a free-standing modular building between Darby Middle School and Tilles Elementary School at 1420 N. H St.

The center is a partnership with Mercy Hospital and The Guidance Center and is paid through a $ 542,000 grant from the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Kerri Tucker, the school health center coordinator, gave an overview of the last year of business at the school board meeting on Monday evening. She explained that the center can be used by any district student, staff member and any family member residing in their home, but it is not open to the whole community.

“By integrating into the educational environment, the School-Based Health Center contributes directly to the school’s mission and delivers important outcomes for educators,” said Tucker. “We can help with the reduction of absences, improve academic performance and reduce discipline problems.”

School health center services include routine physical exams, including sports physical exams, diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses and minor injuries.

Tucker said the location of the center is due to the fact that many Darby and Tilles students come from low-income families and / or are learning the English language, which leads to barriers in receiving health care. She said that in the first year of service, the center saw 1,198 people from 25 of the 26 buildings in the district.

Scott Savage, a registered nurse with Mercy, told the board that the center allowed him to help the district and build relationships with patients. She said that since the center provides access to people who might not otherwise receive health care, it has been able to help treat serious diseases such as diabetes and kidney disease.

“I have to be able to motivate patients to be part of their health care,” Savage said. “For someone middle-aged who didn’t want to take care of themselves, motivating him is something I’m really proud of.”

Rebecca Henson, a consultant at The Guidance Center, said working at the clinic allowed her to partner with the district and Mercy to provide mental health services.

“The goal is always to provide support, help mitigate situations and connect them to the appropriate services,” said Henson. “We have been able to help with students who may not want to receive services at school because they are intimidated or mental health services are taboo, so they will come to the health clinic and meet us there. And families, I guess they are less intimidated. Maybe. they are frustrated by the school staff and do not feel heard. They can walk in there and feel like they have voice and support. “

Deputy Superintendent Marty Mahan said that once the grant expires, the district will have to pay for the center’s staff and maintenance. He said the district would need to build a structure twice the size of the current structure at 3,360 square feet. It would cost around $ 1.2 million. The proposed site would remain between Darby and Tilles,

School board member Matt Blaylock asked if the district could consider moving the center to a more central space instead of building a new building.

“It had to be designated in an under-served area, which is that area, and I think the proximity – it’s literally a walk from Darby and Tilles – is extremely valuable,” said Superintendent Terry Morawski. “We would like everyone to have a chance if possible, but that’s why that specific site was chosen.”

“Personally, I can’t tell you how proud I am of our School-Based Health Center,” said board member Dee Blackwell. “I think it’s an asset to the community. And the students, teachers and staff you’re serving – and the parents in that community – it’s just an amazing service, so thank you so much for that job you” redo. “

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