Students at four district schools will have better access to medical care, thanks to a $250,000 grant secured by the Florida Keys Area Health Education Center (AHEC).
Beginning this fall, clinics at Horace O'Bryant School, Sugarloaf School, Key Largo School and Coral Shores High School will provide free primary care, physicals, sick-child visits, minor non-emergency medical care, prescription writing, and chronic disease management for ailments such as asthma and diabetes.
Simple lab tests will also be offered, with referrals given for complete lab tests and specialty care.
"We've been talking to the school district and working on making this happen for a while," said Keys AHEC CEO Michael Cunningham. "There's a lack of Medicaid providers in this county, and a lot of our students are lacking medical services. There have been a couple of models on the mainland that we looked at, and the University of Miami, with whom we are affiliated, has put together a primary care model offering full services in the schools."
Cunningham created a proposal and went to the state asking for $531,000. Instead, AHEC was awarded $250,000 for a brand-new, one-year start-up clinic program.
Two full-time physician assistants have been hired to administer the services, supported by a part-time registered nurse with a part-time physician serving as medical director. The clinics will be open four days per week at Horace O'Bryant, one day per week at Sugarloaf, three days per week at Key Largo, and two days per week at Coral Shores.
Keys AHEC will collect information on students' health insurance, and try to make claims for certain services; however, no bills or fees will be assessed to families.
"It's an incredible opportunity for the Keys," said Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Theresa Axford, who has served as a liaison between the district and AHEC. "We had been working very hard on attendance, making sure that every school has an attendance committee, and one of the things that came out was that some kids, particularly in prekindergarten and kindergarten, were not coming to school because they were sick and their parents didn't have access to medical care. Many Key West parents couldn't get their children to Medicaid doctors, and sometimes had to travel as far as Marathon to get care. I mentioned this to Michael [Cunningham], and he brilliantly managed to put this grant together. Parents will still have to make appointments, but they won't have to wait very long."
Currently, every district school has a nurse, Axford said, but the clinics will increase access to vital health services for students -- and their younger siblings, who are also eligible to participate.
"If the school nurse detects an issue, obviously right away there will be a referral to the nurse practitioner," Axford said. "Nurse practitioners can diagnose and prescribe, which is a terrific advantage and a tremendous boon for the folks who need these services."
Both Cunningham and Axford are hoping to be able to renew and expand the grant, so that next year they can open another clinic at a Marathon school.
"Our legislators have been very helpful in steering this thing through the legislature," Cunningham said. "Especially State Rep. Holly Raschein. She's been very supportive of this initiative."