Beginning January 6, 2020, in collaboration with the Swain County Schools (SCS), Blue Ridge Health (BRH) opened a new school based health center (SBHC) at Swain Middle School. The 13th SBHC operated by BRH in Western North Carolina (WNC), the site provides medical and behavioral health services during school hours, five days per week, to all Swain Middle School students. Medical services are currently made available via telehealth technology that allows students to link with an off-site medical provider.
SBHCs are clinics that bring preventive and acute care, as well as counseling, health education and other services to children and adolescents at schools. Each community determines which services are provided based on students’ needs. All BRH SBHCs are satellite practices of the organization and, as such, are fully licensed outpatient health facilities. They are staffed by BRH pediatric and adolescent health specialists, including nurse practitioners, physician assistants, registered nurses, licensed clinical social workers (counselors), and a consulting physician medical director. All insurances are accepted at the practice. Those without insurance or with high deductible plans can qualify for a sliding fee scale based on income and household size. No one is turned away for an inability to pay.
Studies show that the presence of a school based health center is associated with improved educational status, including higher grade point averages and higher rates of graduation.
SBHC staff works closely with school nurses and key school support staff to identify and treat student health issues. “The school based health center model represents Swain County School’s commitment to the health and well-being of our students and staff,” said SCS Superintendent Mark Sale, “We want to encourage access to regular and ongoing preventive care whenever possible and, school based health centers represent an effective, trending solution for chronic absenteeism and the ongoing shortage of healthcare options for families in need.”
The new site in Swain County is indicative of increased collaboration between BRH and public school districts in WNC, in order to support the healthcare needs of the student population. BRH currently operates 12 additional school based health centers across Jackson, Buncombe, Henderson, Polk, and Rutherford counties with plans to open more across the region in the coming years.
“We have seen a noticeable increase in demand for school based health services over the years,” said Tammy Greenwell, Chief Operations Officer for Blue Ridge Health and past-President of the North Carolina School Based Health Alliance, “Whether a school health center is newly opened or has been operating for decades, we see positive results for students, parents and faculty. We’re certain more robust services on site in the Swain County Schools will improve health outcomes as well.”
SBHCs primarily operate in communities designated as Medically Underserved Areas and Health Professional Shortage Areas and play a critical role in providing students with primary care, including behavioral health. Across the country, more than 2,000 SBHCs – one-third of which are located in rural communities – serve over two million students.
This collaborative approach in Swain County is intended to take care of the student’s health and well-being while supporting attendance and academic success. It improves access to care for students so that students and parents do not need to miss school or work to receive care. Students and staff at the middle school can come to the practice by appointment or walk-in for routine healthcare, minor injuries, or to be treated when they are ill.
The BRH – Swain Middle School site is open from 8:00am – 3:30pm, five days per week. For more information or to schedule an appointment, the health center can be reached at 828-233-3714.
About Blue Ridge Health
Blue Ridge Health is a nonprofit healthcare system that works closely with communities to meet the ever-changing healthcare needs of our region with high-quality, comprehensive, and accessible healthcare services. With 27 locations throughout western North Carolina, BRH offers primary care, dental, pharmacy, behavioral health and nutrition services that prioritize the patient care experience. For more than 55 years, BRH has served as the leader in community-focused healthcare, providing services to communities in Henderson, Rutherford, Buncombe, Transylvania, Polk, Jackson, Haywood and Swain counties. If you would like more information about Blue Ridge Health, call 828.692.4289 or visit brchs.com.