Exterior of Petersburg High School

The new Crimson Clinic at Petersburg High School will employ a nurse practitioner and licensed clinical social worker.

Petersburg High School students will soon have the opportunity to receive immunizations, prescription scripts and physical exams all within the walls of their school.

Whether or not students will be back in school come September, the new Crimson Clinic, a primary care and behavioral health clinic, will be waiting for them. Years in the making, the hope for the clinic is to keep students in school and to lower the chronic absenteeism rate.

“Attendance rates are not where they should be, for many reasons. The school district saw this as an opportunity to help with attendance,” said Superintendent Maria Pitre-Martin.

In the 2018-2019 school year, a quarter of the district’s nearly 4,200 students were chronically absent, missing at least 18 days or 10% of the year.

Having the in-house center will help both parents or guardians and the teenagers in their care, allowing students to seek medical care in school without needing an adult to take time off work to bring them to an appointment, Pitre-Martin said.

Central Virginia Health Services, a community-based nonprofit, is providing a nurse practitioner and a licensed clinical social worker. Crimson Clinic is the nonprofit’s third primary health care clinic in the city, with the others on Poplar Drive and South Union Street.

The behavioral health side of the clinic will offer counseling for students and general mental health education. For example, if a student comes into the clinic inquiring about weight loss, they will be educated on what behaviors may be triggering them to want to lose weight, said Paula Tomko, CEO of Central Virginia Health Services.

Crimson Clinic “is designed to be a health care home for the students,” said Tomko, who hopes to eventually offer dental cleanings for students.

While plans for returning to school in September aren’t finalized yet, having a primary health care center within a school during a pandemic is opportune. If a student begins to feel ill during the school day, they can receive medical attention immediately.

“If there was ever a time to establish a school-based clinic, it is now,” said Robin Cox, Petersburg schools nursing coordinator.

The high school’s nurse’s office will still be available to students, allowing the school nurse to give a referral to the student who then can walk a matter of feet to the clinic.

The clinic will accept all insurances, and there will be a $10 copay. However, a student will not be refused services if they cannot pay.

Plans for the school-based health clinic were made in part by the United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg.

Crimson Clinic will empower students to become “advocates for their own health and learn how they can take care of themselves [for the rest of their lives],” said Audrey Trussell, United Way vice president of community impact.

For several years, Petersburg has ranked at or near the bottom of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s annual health rankings for Virginia localities.

The clinic will only assist high school students in the beginning. However, as time goes by, all parties involved want to provide primary care to all K-12 students.

Estimated costs of the project in its first year will be easily $400,000 for construction, supplies and salaries, according to Tomko.

The Cameron Foundation, a local organization, and Virginia Premier, a health insurance company, provided the funding to construct the clinic within the school, including branding, capital costs and the feasibility study.

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