MANSFIELD — Sarah Redding said her late husband would be thrilled to see the new renovations at the Malabar Care Connect clinic — with one exception.
The new entrance to Malabar Intermediate’s school-based health center bears a plaque dedicating the space to Mark Redding, who passed away in 2021.
“He never liked his name on things,” Sarah said. “But I think this is very appropriate and it’s lovely.”
Third Street Family Health Services and Mansfield City Schools partnered to launch the Malabar Care Clinic in November 2019. It took years to get the project up and running, but the Reddings were supportive from the get-go. Mark was especially passionate about the project.
“When we first started the clinic, Dr. Redding was such a big advocate of us. He believed in us. Any crazy idea we had, he was for it,” Malabar Principal Tom Hager said.
“He was such a big believer. This wouldn’t have happened for us if it wasn’t for him.”
The Reddings were also the first to deploy community health workers (CHWs) in the area through their non-profit Community Health Access Project. CHWs now serve at numerous community organizations, including Malabar Care Connect and other Third Street locations.
When it first opened, Malabar Care Connect had two community health workers (CHWs), plus a nurse practitioner who visited twice each week. Only Malabar students, staff and their families were eligible for services.
Last May, the Ohio Department of Health announced Malabar Care Connect would receive a $772,464.81 contract to expand its work. The contract included funds for renovations, a new exterior entrance and additional staff.
Thanks to the grant, the clinic began serving students, staff and families from any Mansfield City Schools building last fall.
“If (Mark) could see the clinic today, he’d be so excited,” Sarah said.
Malabar Care Connect now offers year-round service
Employees from Mansfield City Schools and Third Street Family Health gathered at Malabar Tuesday to celebrate the renovations.
“The two exam rooms have been remodeled, the lobby has been remodeled, the entrance is brand new,” said James Secrest, Third Street’s practice manager. “This is almost a brand-new office.”
Peggy Anderson, chief executive officer at Third Street, said the new entryway is more than a cosmetic upgrade. It allows patients to enter the clinic directly, rather than through the school, meaning Malabar Care Connect was able to stay open during the summer this year for the first time.
Due to its increased staff and summer hours, Malabar Care Clinic has already served more patients this year than the entirety of 2022.
Malabar Care Connect now has six full-time staff — a receptionist, two CHWs, a medical assistant, a nurse practitioner and a licensed social worker (LSW).
“When we started a behavioral health staff here, I think it was one day a week,” Anderson said. “It quickly turned into five days a week because the need was so great.”
LSW Jessica Tager helps students in need of behavioral support. Last year, she saw 47 students every one to three weeks, depending on their needs.
Tager said her work focuses primarily on emotional regulation skills, dealing with bullying prevention and self-esteem. She also provides crisis intervention support.
“The kids know that if my door’s open, they can come in and talk to me if they’re having a bad day,” she said.
Britny Queen, the clinic’s receptionist, said she believes the behavioral health supports help keep kids in school.
“We are de-escalating a lot and sending the kids back to class instead of having to send them to in-school suspension or sending them back home,” she said.
Anderson said no child receives services from the clinic without parental consent.
“We include them in the decision making; they can call, they can video in, they can meet here if that’s easier for them,” she said.
The most common medical services the clinic provides are well-child check ups, sports physicals and sick visits.
School officials say the easy access has helped bolster attendance. According to Secrest, 87 percent of students who came for a sick visit were able to return to class the same day.
Third Street Family COO Javar Jackson said the clinic is about more than just convenience. It’s about removing barriers that may keep families from getting the healthcare they need.
Housing insecurity, financial limitations and a lack of transportation or childcare can make it difficult for parents to take their children to the doctor. With a clinic just down the hall, students at Malabar miss less instructional time.
Community health workers also work with families free of charge, connecting them to local resources such as housing help, food banks, mental health providers and transportation services.
This fall, the clinic will begin offering vaccines through the federal Vaccines for Children program, which provides vaccines to children who otherwise might not get them due to financial barriers.
Third Street also has a mobile dental clinic program that travels to different Mansfield schools during the school year. Students can receive cleanings, exams, sealants, and X-rays.
“We are kind of a one-stop shop here,” Jackson said. “We have medical, dental, behavioral health, community health workers all under one roof.”
While funding and space may make it difficult to have more in-school clinics, Jackson said he hopes Malabar Care Connect can be a “hub” for additional Third Street providers to visit other Mansfield City School buildings in the future.
Anderson said the model works so well because Mansfield City Schools and Third Street are fully committed and consistently looking for ways to improve.
“It only works if everyone works together as a team,” she said.