Catamount School students gain access to health services through collaboration with Blue Ridge Health

Middle grades students who attend the Catamount School, the laboratory school operated by Western Carolina University, now have access to health services that are being offered through a unique collaboration involving WCU, Jackson County Public Schools and Blue Ridge Health, a nonprofit health care system based in Hendersonville.

Developed through a partnership involving WCU and Jackson County Schools, the Catamount School is located on the campus of Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva. Beginning earlier this month, a health center established by Blue Ridge Health at Smoky Mountain High is providing the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who attend the Catamount School and its faculty and staff an accessible and affordable way to obtain health care when it is needed during school hours, said Laura Plantenberg, a faculty member in WCU’s School of Nursing who teaches the university’s students two days each week and serves as health services coordinator for the Catamount School three days each week.

Laura Plantenberg

Blue Ridge Health operates 11 school-based health centers across Henderson, Polk, Rutherford, Buncombe and Jackson counties. The facilities provide comprehensive nursing, medical, behavioral health and nutrition services to students throughout the region. Some of the services provided include sports physicals and well-being checkups; testing for infections and diseases; basic lab testing; checks for strains, sprains and broken bones; and prescription medications.

All Blue Ridge Health school-based health centers are satellite practices of the parent organization and are fully licensed outpatient health facilities. The centers function like a medical practice and, as such, there is a charge for most services. However, all insurances are accepted and those without insurance or with high deductible plans are likely to qualify for a sliding fee scale based on income and household size. No one is turned away because of an inability to pay.

Staff members at Blue Ridge Health’s school-based health centers work closely with school nurses and key school support staff to identify and treat student health issues. “Partnering with Blue Ridge Health is a win for the Catamount School,” said Kim Winter, dean of WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions. “I knew about the success of the school-based clinics in Henderson County, and the implementation here in Jackson County has been seamless. This is one more way in which collaboration with our Jackson County Public School partners ensures our students and their families have better access to acute and preventative health services.”

Chip Cody serves as principal at the Catamount School, which opened in August of 2017. “The convenience of access, clear communication with families and professional staff make Blue Ridge Health a great partner and support for our students,” he said.

Blue Ridge Health’s two practices for Jackson County Public School students opened at Smoky Mountain High School and Fairview Elementary School last spring. “We opened our first school-based health center in Henderson County in 1994, and it’s been successfully expanding since then,” said Tammy Greenwell, chief operations officer for Blue Ridge Health and president of the North Carolina School-Based Health Alliance. “In our experience, the addition of on-site health care services in school settings creates significant improvement in well-being and academic success among students. This has created high demand for these services across our region and nationwide.”

In her role as an instructor for WCU’s bachelor’s program in nursing, Plantenberg’s teaching responsibilities are based in family care and pediatrics. She earned her master’s degree in nursing at WCU and previously served as a school nurse in Swain County and as a nurse for a number of hospitals and agencies in both North Carolina and Colorado.

For more information about Blue Ridge Health and school-based health services, visit this website. For more information and to register for services at the Catamount School, contact Plantenberg at 828-331-1775 or lplantenberg@wcu.edu.