Health center opens to serve Blue Ridge students

Parents must fill out and turn in a consent form and health information packet before their children can use the services.

Holly Howard, director of The Health Center at Blue Ridge, works with AmeriCorps member Tessa Matson (seated) in the elementary school’s office.

Holly Howard, director of The Health Center at Blue Ridge, works with AmeriCorps member Tessa Matson (seated) in the elementary school’s office. Photo by Joe Tierney.


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Blue Ridge Elementary

1150 W. Chestnut St., Walla Walla

Blue Ridge Elementary

WALLA WALLA -- A new school-based health center has opened at Blue Ridge Elementary.

Located inside the elementary school, the center is available to students three afternoons a week, during school hours. Basic medical services are provided free of charge, regardless of whether students have insurance.

The Health Center at Blue Ridge is the second school-based health center in Walla Walla, but the first to be based at an elementary school. In 2009, the Health Center at Lincoln was established to serve students of Lincoln High School.

Holly Howard is executive director of The Health Center, the nonprofit that runs The Health Center at Lincoln and the Health Center at Blue Ridge. Establishing a school-based center at Blue Ridge was an early goal, she said.

Blue Ridge's center is inside the school, but runs separately from the school. The center receives no district funds, but received approval from the Walla Walla School Board to operate in Blue Ridge space.

The center staff will be working to meet the young children's basic health needs where it can be easily accessible, while supporting student learning.

Blue Ridge Principal Kim Doepker has embraced the Health Center at Blue Ridge for the potential it has in helping children learn more effectively. Doepker said two years ago her students had the highest rate of absences out of the district's elementary schools.

Students missing entire days of school for doctor's visits or staying home when they might be healthy enough to attend school are some of the concerns the center is looking to address. So is getting children preventative or early health screenings to prevent more serious illnesses from setting in.

"You cannot learn if you are not healthy and those primary needs are not met," Doepker said.

The center is expected to work in multiple ways. Children who are feeling sick can be checked right away by the center's registered nurse and nurse practitioner. Erica Rootvik is a registered nurse who works with Lincoln students in the mornings, and now heads to Blue Ridge for three afternoons a week.

Ellen Collette is an advanced registered nurse practitioner who comes to Blue Ridge from Adventist Health Medical Group pediatricts.

If a child needs more medical attention, Rootvik and Collette will coordinate an appointment with the child's primary care physician. If a child doesn't have a primary doctor, the center can help with that as well.

"By having the health center here, it just takes away one more hurdle," Doepker said. "It's a liaison. It's working together."

Doepker said there is also the hope of getting children and families more specialized care, when repeat illnesses might be the sign of something more complex, such as anxiety or mental health problems.

For Howard, after three years serving high school-aged students through the Lincoln center, the new Blue Ridge center has been an adjustment.

"They're little," Howard said about the Blue Ridge students. "It's just different. Parents are definitely a bigger element."

The Blue Ridge center is open to Blue Ridge students and those in the Head Start/ECEAP public preschool program only. Combined, there is the potential for the center to serve more than 500 children.

And because the students being served are so young, parental consent and communication is that much more important, Howard said. Students won't be able to use the center until a parent has filled out and turned in a consent form and health information packet. Packets were sent home in advance of the center opening to give parents the opportunity to return them in time for the center's opening -- more than 100 families have already done so.

Howard said the center also gives parents some freedom to know their child is being checked or treated for medical concerns, without worrying about taking a day off from work or jeopardizing their employment.

"It makes so much more sense to do it right here, where they spend all day," Howard said.

The Health Center at Blue Ridge opens Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 12:30-3:30 p.m., and is located in Blue Ridge's main office.