Oklahoma City alternative school to get medical clinic after 4 years without one

Variety Care plans to open a health clinic at Emerson Alternative High School that will be open to staff, students and students' children.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL ccoppernoll@opubco.com Published: February 18, 2013
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Erica Ortiz looked down at her tiny daughter, Kristina.

“Baila,” she whispered, encouraging the 1-year-old to dance along to the music playing on the day care stereo.

Kristina leaned to one side and paused. Then her hands went straight into the air, and her face melted into a frown. She'd rather be held by her mama than dance today. Ortiz picked her up and squeezed.

Ortiz is a few months away from graduating high school, and a few days away from giving birth for the second time.

She misses school whenever Kristina is sick or has a checkup, but sometimes she skips doctor visits for herself so she doesn't get too far behind in her classes.

“It's hard to do that,” Ortiz said. “ ... It's hard to keep your grades up.”

A new health clinic at her high school could allow Ortiz and students like her to spend more time in class while also providing more access to health care.

Oklahoma City Public Schools will build a clinic inside Emerson Alternative High School, and nonprofit Variety Care will run it.

Emerson had a clinic for more than 30 years, but it closed in 2009 after state funding cuts.

The new clinic will be open twice a week, said Debbie Johnson, health administrator for Oklahoma City Public Schools. It will be open to students, their children and staff.

Johnson said students with no access to health care will be able to see a professional, and expectant mothers will be able to get prenatal care.

“My goal is for the kids not to wait until they're six months along to get care,” Johnson said.

The school likely will remodel the obsolete boiler room in the school basement, Oklahoma City schools Superintendent Karl Springer said.

It will cost about $150,000 to $200,000, Springer said, but who will pay for that is still up in the air. The district may use cash from its building funds, or officials might be able to request the MAPS Trust pay for the project.

Either way, Springer said he wants the clinic to open soon. Students need health services now. So do their young children.

“For these babies, we have them in school in four years,” Springer said. “It's so important we get them off to the right start.”

Board OK's clinic

The Oklahoma City School Board approved an agreement this month with the nonprofit Variety Care to run the clinic.

Variety Care announced earlier this year plans to open a clinic at Capitol Hill High School, 500 SW 36. The clinic will be open to students, families and staff.

Emerson advocates have been working to reopen the clinic since it closed four years ago, said Geremy Rowland, an attorney and chairman of the school's Community Advisory Board.

“I think in retrospect, myself included, we got off on some tangents that we did not need to, roads we should not have gone down,” Rowland said. “We probably should have approached Variety Care or another partner to investigate their willingness. Hindsight is what it is.”

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