Macon County Schools opens first on-site health clinic at South Macon


Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer

On staff at the new health clinic at South Macon Elementary School are Sheena Ledford (seated) and Rebecca Austin.

Members of the Macon County Board of Education received an update on the Health Clinic at South Macon Elementary during the September board meeting held in Highlands.

The health clinic was launched on July 1, 2019, to allow students in Macon County increased access to preventive health, nutrition and mental health services through the school-based health center. 

“Preventive Health Services will be provided as well by the school nurse with the addition of an interdisciplinary team approach with the other providers based on-site at the School Based Health Center (SBHC),” Kathy McGaha with Macon County Public Health said over the summer. “The funds from this grant would be used primarily for the provision of two full time mental health professionals paid for by the grant and hired and supervised by ACS. Another identified deficit is having coverage for medication evaluation and prescribing, specifically contracting with a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner to provide four hours per week to manage prescription medications. Eighty percent of the grant funds will be used to provide Behavioral Health Services.”

Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin touted the program’s success during the board of education meeting. 

“Eleven students are signed up and receiving services, 17 other students are in the process of being seen, as soon as paperwork is returned to Appalachian [Community Services],” said Dr. Baldwin. 

Dr. Baldwin noted that the health clinic is extremely beneficial for students and is something he hopes to see grow. 

“The ability to provide student services in a familiar environment in a manner that does not require parents to miss work in order to attend appointments,” said Dr. Baldwin. “Service providers are available and staff when needed. It also has a positive impact on the emotional needs of our students and their parents.”

The current program was made possible through a state grant. The grant totals $150,000 and for it to be utilized beyond the first year of implementation, the health department will have to reapply for funding annually through the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Rural Health. 

The grant was made possible on the state level as providers found that safety net organizations continue to face increasing demands for access to services in communities across North Carolina. The current opioid crisis, behavioral health needs, integrated patient care, creating healthy opportunities for access to food, housing, transpiration, and the use of Telehealth strategies to improve access and sustainability are among the many issues facing safety net providers. 

With the success of the first clinic. Dr. Baldwin said he hopes it is something that can be repeated at additional schools in the district. 

“I am hopeful that the school-based health clinic is something that can be replicated at all of our schools,” said Dr. Baldwin. “In order for this to happen we must observe and document the efficacy of the clinic. Then we must secure the funding necessary for the other schools to benefit from the clinics.”

The health clinic provides a wide range of services to meet the needs of individual students. Students are able to receive individual/group/family therapy with a licensed therapist through the program. Students are also able to receive in-classroom assistance to complement therapy received.

“Students are positively impacted by the ability to have morning and afternoon check-ins as needed.  These check-ins serve as ‘stabilizers’ as the students start their day, or wind down their day,” Dr. Baldwin. “Macon County Schools are truly ‘community’ schools and it is essential that we have the support of other local agencies and the community at-large in order to fully serve the needs of our students. We are grateful for this partnership with the Health Department and Appalachian Services.”