When two organizations come together to better serve people, the impact can be moving. This is exactly the type of partnership that has been formed between Southern Ohio Medical Center and Eastern Local Schools.

On Wednesday afternoon, an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony were held to present Eastern’s new onsite SOMC medical clinic to the public. This clinic will provide medical service to both the community around Eastern Local School District and the Eastern students and staff.

The idea for the partnership came to Eastern superintendent Neil Leist via two Eastern visionaries, “A big shoutout goes to our elementary principal Matt Hines and nurse Autumn Risner, who got the ball rolling on this. I had heard about this being done elsewhere before and they came to me and said, ‘Hey, let’s head out to Alexander (where the original concept was created) and see how they do it there,’ and when Matt and I went out there we knew this was something we had to have,” said Leist.

The school district then opened up a bidding process with other medical providers and eventually determined that SOMC was best suited to carry out the plan.

“We could tell they really had their heart in it,’’ said Leist.

Southern Ohio Medical Center representatives were also onsite at Wednesday’s ceremony to share their excitement regarding the partnership.

Office Manager and Eastern graduate Cindy Balzer shared her thoughts on the importance of the newly-established office and what it means for the community, “As a graduate of Eastern I am thrilled about what SOMC has partnered with the school to provide. I believe that this is a much-needed service for this community. This will not only provide care for the staff and students, but also for the community. I’m very excited to get started and be a part of this journey.”

SOMC’s Chief Operating Officer Ben Gill was also on hand to provide comment on the big event: “I think exciting is the key word. It’s an exciting day. We’re thrilled to be here; it’s the result of a lot of time and attention. It takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to pull something like this off. This is a beautiful place and we’re excited with the staff and the team that’s going to be here helping serve the community; it’s a top notch group of folks. This is a big part of our mission as an organization to go out as much as we can and partner with local institutions such as local schools to bring service to those communities, and we’re really excited about the opportunity to do so.”

President and CEO of SOMC Randy Arnett also shared his thoughts and an impression of the community’s response to the event, “It’s a big surprise to see this many people from the community here to welcome us to Eastern Schools. This was Ben’s project, and he led the process to accomplish what we’re trying to do, which is to bring our services to the places where people work, live, go to school, and worship, and Eastern is giving us that opportunity here. We’re very excited; we hope to be great partners with the school, and this couldn’t be a nicer facility.”

That facility is located inside the high school building at Eastern and is secluded from the rest of the school. Entrance from inside the school requires access from the scan of a key card, and there is a separate, outside entrance for community members who come to the clinic for care and the entire facility is monitored by a security system.

This is an important characteristic of the facility, according to Neil Leist, who also commented on the benefit of the partnership to Eastern Schools, “SOMC has poured a lot into this project to help our students out, and you have to realize that Eastern is one of the 10 to 12 lowest-income school districts in the state of Ohio, and Pike County is one of the top counties in the state in unemployment, so we offer benefits such as around 80 percent free and reduced lunch to our students, and a lot of our families need this help. This is a much-needed program for us.”

Leist also offered a humorous story that speaks to the effects of the clinic for students, “Over the course of the past five days I’ve had parents tell me that they’ve had juniors and seniors who are 17 or 18 years old get up in the morning and say ‘I just can’t go to school today because I think I may have a fever,’ and the parents are telling their kids now, ‘Well that’s perfect; you need to get up because there’s a doctor’s office at school now’”.

Even with humor aside, this is possibly the most anticipated effect of the new clinic on the education of students. According to Ohio Department of Education representative Anna Miller, this partnership can have a positive impact on student attendance, which will serve to boost their overall opportunity to be educated.

“It is a big part of what I do to come to places like this and see what schools are doing to better serve their students and communities, so it’s always exciting to observe things like this,” said Miller. “This is something that allows students access to care that they may not have had before, and it lets them have that within the confines of their own school, which will help limit the number of days missed and ensure that they don’t miss out on valuable class time.”

Overall, Leist was grateful to SOMC for the impact this clinic will have on the school and the community: “We just want to say thank you to SOMC. This is one of the most exciting days I’ve had in my 35 years of education, and it’s all happening here at Eastern. Every decision we make as an administration here should be and is based on what is best for the students of Eastern Schools. What could be better than placing a medical clinic right here on campus with 100 percent access for our families and students? So, we are extremely excited about this.”

This SOMC Clinic is located at Eastern High School and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The site’s nurse practitioner is Kristie Dailey, and most needs can be met on site. Prescriptions can be sent to a pharmacy for next-day pickup on site. This clinic is available to the public year-round and additional information can be found on somc.org or by calling (740) 226-1552.

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