After years of effort, a college well being heart is slated to open at Lawrence Excessive Faculty

FAIRFIELD – Shannon King lives in Benton these days, but she knows Fairfield and its schools. Her parents went to Lawrence High, as did she, her husband, and her sons.

In her time as the youth health coordinator for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, King realized that a school health center would benefit her community.

After she retired, she and several other residents of the area gradually worked toward that goal with success. Lawrence High School’s health center is set to open in a classroom next to the school nurse’s office this fall, headmaster Dan Bowers said.

“It’s exciting. It’s one more thing we can give to kids and I look forward to finally setting it up, organizing and opening it this year,” said Bowers.

The school is currently renovating the premises. The center will provide basic services to students and staff, including exercise, treatment of minor illnesses, and treatment of chronic illnesses.

HealthReach Community Health Centers, a Waterville-based organization that operates about a dozen of them in West and Central Maine, will run the facility at Lawrence High School like everyone else – meaning HealthReach is funding them, not the school district.

A community health center at Lawrence High School is slated to open this fall. Contributed photo

The center is not intended to replace school nurses, but rather to work with existing medical staff. The aim is to minimize the school time that students miss due to illness or injury.

HealthReach will purchase insurance for its services and plans to offer tiered payment options.

The organization has hired Katie Gillihan, a family nurse, to run the center. She is a HealthReach employee and is not on the district payroll. Gillihan is assisted by Amanda Cahoon, a medical assistant.

“We set up a bathroom there, two exam rooms, and then a reception area where Katie looks after the kids when they come in,” Bowers said.

The schedule calls for Gillihan to be in Lawrence two days a week from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., but those hours may expand in the future. The telephone line for making appointments is manned Monday through Friday during business hours.

“It’s been an amazing collaboration with some community members who started this at the grassroots level and then with the school staff and staff,” said Connie Coggins, CEO of HealthReach.

The concept behind school health centers is to remove the barriers that prevent children from accessing primary care. “The idea is to embed that and make it comfortable for the students and their parents,” said Coggins.

“Some jobs don’t allow parents to leave their jobs to see the doctor for their children,” said Shannon King. “So I just think it’s a win-win situation.”

The Maine Center for Disease Control is funding 15 school health centers in the state, said George Shaler, who works with the MCDC to provide technical assistance and professional development services to school clinics. Shaler said he doesn’t know exactly how many school health centers exist in Maine as only the government-funded ones need to contact him, but he estimates there are around 20. Compared to other states, Shaler said Maine is arguably in the thick of it.

“Maine doesn’t have that many school health centers compared to the number of high schools we have. That’s a shame because I personally think every school should have a school health center, ”said King.

“To ensure that all children have access to comprehensive primary health care, all children must have a fair chance to stay in school and be ready to learn,” said mother Elayne Richards. “If that happens, our community will be a better place.”

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