EAGLE COUNTY - It just got harder to miss school at Avon Elementary.
The valley's first school-based health care clinic opened Feb. 14, the latest feather in Avon Elementary School's cap.
Doctors Plus Kids Care is designed to provide affordable health care to Eagle County students. The clinic will provide medical, dental and behavioral health services to any Eagle County student, ages 3 to 18.
And here's one reason it's in Avon Elementary: When the call went out four years ago for administrators to attend a meeting if they were interested in having a clinic in their school, Avon elementary principal Melisa Rewold-Thuon was the only one to show up.
Four years later, they cut the ribbon and opened the clinic, right there in her school and in a space that used to be a couple of counselors' offices and a conference room. In fact, the clinic is so new that the window facing the inside hall still says "Conference Room."
Then, there's the need.
A community advisory group surveyed six schools in and around Avon Elementary from 2009 through 2011. They found that 64 percent of Avon Elementary students lacked a regular source of health care, and 29 percent suffered from chronic medical conditions.
They've already seen a few kids. In fact, the clinic's first patient ran through the door just a few days ago before it even opened.
A small girl became upset when she saw an injured mouse, so she picked it up.
"Put down the mouse!" shouted master teacher Donna Harrison and others.
But, too late. The mouse bit her, and into the clinic she went.
This cold and flu season has been one of the worst and they could have used the clinic already, Rewold-Thuon said. In fact, a few days before the clinic officially opened, one kid was so sick they called an ambulance.
Doctors Plus will run the clinic. It's the nonprofit arm of Doctors on Call, Guy and Jill Kovacevich's local business.
"To get to today has been a four-year process - sometimes fun, sometimes tedious," Jill said.
Holly Woods wrote the grants and pushed the project along, sometimes more firmly than others, Jill said.
"Colorado is very lucky, very progressive in providing affordable health care," Jill said.
Colorado has 57 school-based health clinics, said Diedre Callahan with Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care.
Clinics are placed where people have limited access to health care, Callahan said.
"The Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care says they're an umbrella organization. I say they're a bridge," Jill said.
Critics say the school-based clinics compete with local doctors; Kovacevich disagrees.
The clinic charges fees based on income, she said. She said the clinic accepts Medicare and Medicaid patients, underinsured and uninsured, and that it will pay for itself.
The school-based clinic will also refer patients to local doctors, Jill said.
The federal construction grant was part of the Affordable Care Act.
The planning cost $24,000. Construction was $221,000 and El Pomar and a statewide school-based health care system is picking up part of the tab for the ongoing costs.
Blue Ribbon school
Avon Elementary School is one of only five Colorado schools to win this year's National Blue Ribbon School Award.
Students more than doubled its standardized test scores over the past two years while serving a mostly minority student population. More than 40 percent of its students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to data from the Department of Education.
Of Avon Elementary School's 235 current students, 87 percent are not native English speakers and 206 qualify as low income, based on their eligibility for free-reduced meal programs, according the school's data.
Over the past five years, Avon elementary's reading scores soared, from 25.53 percent proficient and advanced in 2007 to 67.83 in 2011, as measured by Colorado's annual CSAP test. Math scores were up from 38.85 percent in 2007 to 69.23 percent in 2011.
The last time Avon Elementary's CSAP scores were that high, the student body's ethnic makeup was almost the exact opposite of what it is now, Avon Elementary Rewold-Thuon said when this year's results rolled in.