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  • Writer's pictureCameron Cochran

Checkups Near the Classroom

Posted April 5, 2017

By Olivia Neeley, Wilson Daily Times Staff Writer

Wilson leaders had a vision to improve the health and well-being of its children.

Denise O’Hara, Healthcare Foundation of Wilson’s Executive Director, left, Wilson County Health Director Teresa Ellen, middle, and Sheryletta Lacewell, Foundation board member, get an up-close and personal view of the new Wilson Area Student Health Center at Forest Hills Middle School.

They understood students have more needs than academics alone.

And together, those leaders united to bring vital health services to a place where they spend most of their time — school.

On Tuesday, more than 50 community leaders came together to celebrate the grand opening of the first Wilson Area Student Health Center, also known as WASH, at Forest Hills Middle School.

“Only a healthy child is able to take full advantage of their educational opportunities,” said Lane Mills, Wilson County Schools superintendent. “Research indicates that both school attendance and graduation rates increase in schools with school-based health centers.”

The center was made possible through a $220,000 grant from the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson. Wilson County Schools provided the space and covered renovation costs. The Wilson County Health Department provides medical oversight of the clinic. Another grant partner is the Wilson County Department of Social Services, which provides support through a prevention social worker.

The clinic’s goal is to bridge the gap between students’ education and their health, which officials said go hand-in-hand.

“A school-based health center is able to reduce barriers to learning, encouraging students to talk with staff about their health care needs,” said Wilson County Health Director Teresa Ellen. “There are great disparities in Wilson County with regard to health and poverty. We believe WASH has potential to make a real impact on health outcomes for students in our county.”

The center, which has been up and running for two months now, is staffed by a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse and an office manager. Staff provides diagnosis, treatment and resolution of health problems, treating a variety of issues including the flu, providing athletic physicals and offering immunizations. Officials say referrals are made to physicians and other community health providers as needed.

Ellen said stakeholders have already seen how the center has made a difference in students’ lives at Forest Hills Middle School.


Wilson County Commissioner Rob Boyette said he was thankful to all the partners who made the center possible.

While this is a pilot program, officials hope to expand the idea to other schools in the future.

“You have to start somewhere,” Boyette told the crowd of leaders. “And we are starting here at Forest Hills Middle.”

With more than 550 students, Forest Hills is the largest middle school in the county. Mayor Bruce Rose said children are the community’s greatest asset.

“They are our future leaders,” Rose said, adding that this health center will help students achieve success.

WASH staff have treated 32 students so far, including some for multiple visits, since the center opened its doors in February. Nearly half the students currently have signed parental permission forms in place and can be seen at the center.

The center has multiple offices and exam rooms and feels like a doctor’s office. Officials say they want students to feel comfortable and have privacy when they are seen for a health-related issue.

“Our students, staff and parents are excited to be hosting the first student-based health center,” said Forest Hills Middle School Principal Cheryl Baggett. “As an educator, I am interested in supporting our students with every tool we can provide. WASH offers tremendous opportunities to support our students’ health and academic achievement.”


The Wilson County DSS prevention social worker also has regular hours at the center, working with staff, students and parents on improving communication, parenting skills, conflict resolution and other tools to help prevent child abuse or neglect, officials said.

“We are happy to involved in this outstanding project,” said DSS Director Glenn Osborne. “This grant offers our agency another opportunity to partner with great organizations to help improve the lives of children and families in Wilson County.”

In 2014, Wilson County Schools and Wilson 20/20 Community Vision developed a strategic youth master plan with a series of recommendations to improve the lives of youth in Wilson. School-based health centers were a part of that strategy identified under the health and wellness plan.

“The (Youth Master Plan) Health and Wellness Team proposed the concept of school-based health centers as a unique way to address health challenges and provide services where students spend the majority of their day,” said Paula Benson, Wilson 20/20 executive director. “Today’s grand opening represents the imaginative thinking and hard work of many dedicated community partners.”

The Healthcare Foundation of Wilson, which was established in 2014, is also committed to investing in strategic initiatives to improve the health and wellness of all people in the greater Wilson community.

“The school-based health center is a great example of a collaborative effort that addresses some of the greatest health concerns in Wilson and our foundation’s priority areas of funding,” said Denise O’Hara, the foundation’s executive director. “This on-site resource at the school has the potential to reduce learning barriers and encourage students to communicate health needs and concerns that otherwise could impact school attendance.”

Forest Hills students also held a contest to name the new health center. Art students recently painted the WASH logo outside the clinic.

For more information on the center, contact the Wilson County Health Department at 252-237-3141.

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