Health & Medicine

Health clinic at Lexington's Harrison Elementary will remain open

Harrison Elementary School in Lexington sent a letter home to parents Monday saying that the school's 15-year-old health clinic will not be closing, at least for now.

The letter was signed by William North, executive director of HealthFirst Bluegrass, the non-profit that operates clinics at Harrison and three other Fayette County schools.

The letter apparently is intended to ease concerns among parents and staffers after rumors recently surfaced suggesting that the Harrison facility might be closing.

"Let me assure you as of today that our clinic is remaining open," North wrote in Monday's letter. "For the time being, we will continue to have a school nurse and clerk at our Harrison location while we continue recruiting for a nurse practitioner."

In addition to Harrison, HealthFirst operates clinics at Arlington, William Wells Brown and Tates Creek elementary schools, all in partnership with the Fayette County Schools.

North said in an interview that various factors have been concerns at Harrison, including budget issues, the clinic's limited size and staffing difficulties. Harrison has been without a nurse practitioner since last spring.

But the "expectation" is that Harrison's clinic will continue through this school year, North said.

"I think it's the partnership between the Fayette School District and HealthFirst that's going to determine the longterm viability of that clinic and all of the clinics we operate," he said.

North said he didn't know how the closure rumor got started, but he said it had become an "issue."

Harrison Elementary Principal Tammie Franks said that word of a possible closure began circulating a little over a week ago. Now, parents and school staffers are relieved to hear that the clinic will stay open, she said.

"Parents were very concerned, because those who rely on the clinic weren't sure what they were going to do," Franks said Monday. "We're very happy we'll be able to continue providing health services so our kids can come to school and be healthy and learn. You can't learn very well if you don't feel well."

According to Franks, the clinic is the main source of health care for many of the roughly 370 students at Harrison. About 96 percent of Harrison students qualify for free and reduced-cost lunches, one of the highest rates in the school district.

According to North, enlarging Harrison clinic would allow more services to be provided and increase the number of students that could be seen. Franks said Harrison officials are ready to work with HealthFirst to make more space available.

North said he couldn't provide figures on how much it costs HealthFirst to operate the clinics at the schools. The organization doesn't break those figures out of its overall clinic operating costs, he said.

But North said HealthFirst is interested in adding health clinics at two more Fayette schools, if details can be worked out. The locations haven't been selected yet, he said.

"We are definitely committed to the school district and the students," North said. "This is not a decision to move away from the school district at all. We are interested in growing the program."