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New Clinic Offers Healthcare At Graham County Schools

Erlanger and Lilly Knoepp
Deborah McDaniel, RN, MSN, FNP-C, will serve as the clinic’s provider. ";

A new clinic aims to make healthcare more accessible in Graham County Schools.

With the school year underway, workers are putting the finishing touches on a new health clinic for students and staff.

“As a family nurse practitioner, we kind of tease and say, 'we go from womb to tomb,'” said Debbie McDaniel.

She’s a nurse practitioner with Erlanger Health System and will be the lead healthcare provider at the Graham County Schools Health Clinic. The clinic is part of a partnership with Erlanger Health System and will be located at the county’s elementary school. The clinic was funded by Erlanger with a $10,000 grant from Nantahala Health Foundation.  Facilities are provided by Graham County.

“A big part of primary care in general is education and preventative in that, so we're not to a point where we've let something go so far that we need urgent care. We live in a rural area, and that's a difficult thing to find,” said McDaniel.

The school system is the largest employer in Graham County explains school superintendent Angie Knight. There are about 225 employees and 1,200 students in the system – all of whom are eligible to receive care the clinic. 

“Just adding that instant access for families that might not otherwise have access is the biggest factor for me in being sold on this idea and, really excited that Debbie will become a part of our community,” said Knight.  

Knight says there was a similar clinic years ago, but it had to close after the medical provider left. Conversations about opening a new clinic with Erlanger started long before the current pandemic. Tennessee-based Erlanger Health System took over Murphy Medical Center in 2018.

“It does feel like healthcare is become front and center, but I just think that this will give some kids that maybe wouldn't have access otherwise instant access to a provider,” said Knight.

Knight explains that the health clinic will be available to students who are seen by the school nurse and need additional care with parental permission or available by appointment. There are two nurses for the whole school system from PreK-12th grade. Transportation will be provided to the clinic for students at the other schools.

The clinic will have COVID testing for those who qualify. The clinic is scheduled to open the first week of September.

This afternoon, Graham County School Board held an emergency meeting and decided to make schools remote until September 13th and then enforce a mask mandate until October 5th. Over 450 students were in quarantine on Monday afternoon. Friday night’s high school football game has been cancelled.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.