MADISON COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - A program providing free healthcare to thousands of students in Madison County is expanding again.
The HEALS clinic held another ribbon-cutting at the Geraldine Bennett Penney HEALS Clinic. This time next to Madison County Elementary School. Kids there will be able to see general practitioners, dentists and eye doctors, allowing students to get their educational and health needs met in one full swoop.
"They have lacked this health care for a long time, but now they are going to get it," said chief operations officer Kerry Wilkerson.
The new clinic will provide medical and dental care for a couple of hundred students and their siblings in Gurley. It's for kids with public insurance or no insurance at all.
"These children need our help. So this right here is a great aspect for the whole educational process, and it's hard for kids to learn when they are hurting and they are in pain," Wilkerson said.
Access to care was the main problem with people traveling over a mountain to see doctors. This is the sixth school site for a HEALS clinic in Madison County.
"The demand is definitely here, and we are just thankful we have a community that have came together to make this vision a possibility," said HEALS executive director Teek Patnaik. "The operations from our clinic only make up 35 percent of our budget and the rest is funded through community gifts, gr ants and support."
Because of that collaboration, sick children will get back into the classroom faster.
"We can bring them right of school during the school day, right to a dentist and right to a doctor, and they will have the opportunity to have a doctor immediately, and the absenteeism go down. That's just on the educational side, but most importantly, they are having good health care and it is changing their lives," Wilkerson said.
The clinic, next to Madison County Elementary, is set to take patients on Aug. 28.
The construction took about a year and cost more than a quarter of a million dollars.
The optometrist will start at the beginning of 2018, and dental will begin spring of next year.
HEALS is looking at two more areas in Madison County to build clinics. They are near the Meridianville-Hazel Green line and the Madison-Triana area.
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