Whitehall residents will have their first opportunity to tour Heart of Ohio Family Health, the new health center at Whitehall-Yearling High School, 675 S. Yearling Road, during an open house from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 5.

"Whitehall City Schools is very excited to be able to provide (Heart of Ohio) with the space necessary to serve not only our student population but our Whitehall community as a whole," district Superintendent Brian Hamler said.

"By simply providing convenient access to care, (this health center) has the potential to do great things for our students' personal academic achievement," he said.

The health center opens to the public March 16. Heart of Ohio Family Health will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Jenn Schehl, development and marketing director for Heart of Ohio, said it's the first school-based health center of its kind in Franklin County.

Nationwide Children's Hospital's Care Connection Program has been operating in central Ohio schools since 2015, said Katelyn Hanzel, senior specialist, media relations for the hospital.

But according to Schehl, only Heart of Ohio's health center at Whitehall-Yearling provides health care to adults as well as children, and offers behavioral-health services among other primary-care needs.

Whitehall-Yearling's health center will be staffed by a certified nurse practitioner, two medical assistants, a registration staff member and a behavioral-health counselor, as needed.

Provided services include same-day sick appointments, physical- and behavioral-health services, substance-use screenings, sports physicals, chronic-care management and immunizations, said Dr. Buhari Mohammed, chief executive officer of Heart of Ohio.

"Students can be treated for acute illnesses such as flu, and chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes. ... Although services outside of the primary care will not be provided on-site, all individuals who present for services at Whitehall-Yearling High School will have access to the full scope of a federal qualified health center," Mohammed said.

Providers will make referrals for any services not provided on-site to Heart of Ohio's current health center on East Main Street in Whitehall, and additional services might be added, he said.

As a federally qualified health center, Mohammed said, the school-based clinic provides "exceptional and holistic health care" to patients "of diverse cultures and languages," regardless of their ability to pay.

As a school-based health center, it provides greater opportunity and access for students, Mohammed said.

According to the School-Based Health Alliance, teenagers who might otherwise resist visiting a physician are more likely to seek medical help for such problems as depression or obesity at a school-based health center.

"This partnership with Whitehall City Schools will help reduce health disparities and chronic absenteeism while improving learning outcomes for students," Schehl said.

Whitehall schools received four bids to construct the health center in December, the lowest of which was $73,000, offered by Pickerington-based TPV Design/Build Inc., said David Hausmann, director of operations for Whitehall schools.

With architectural fees and other expenses included, the total cost for construction was about $90,000, said Ty Debevoise, director of marketing and communications for Whitehall schools.

Construction of the health center was funded by the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio, Schehl said.

Startup costs, including equipping and first-year operating expenses, are funded by a grant through the Franklin County board of commissioners, but program income is expected to fund the health center's operating costs moving forward, Schehl said.

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