Health center an icebreaker for CNE campus, surrounding communities
By Dick Maloney
Wayne Johnson compared the process to a “glacier moving.”
Clermont Northeastern School District’s assistant superintendent was standing inside the lobby of the new Mercy Health Center on CNE’s campus before the official dedication Sept. 18, as visitors got their first look inside what had formerly been CNE High School’s home economics wing.
The school district and Mercy Health dedicated the new community/student health center as officials gathered at the facility under blue skies and a bright, sometimes blinding, sun. Appropriately, chairs were set up six feet apart and students handed out masks with the Mercy Health and CNE logos.
Johnson was one of three CNE administrators, along with Dean of Students T.J. Dorsey and district nurse Lori Diekmann, responsible for bringing the facility to campus. Now, CNE’s almost 1,400 students, as well as faculty, staff and members of the community at large, can get health care in their neighborhood.
CNE encompasses 78 square miles, from the just east of I-275 at Milford Parkway to the village of Marathon to the east, and from the flag pole at the old Ford plant in Batavia to the south to Route 727, near Stonelick Lake, and according to Johnson and others, there are no general health providers, until now.
“The closest thing is Clermont Mercy Hospital, and people here - or they go to the Little Clinic or whatever - this just provides another place for people to go and keep close, and for kids in the district, if they need shots, if they have a temperature or whatever, we can send them here to be looked at by a nurse practitioner,” Johnson said.
Mercy Health – Clermont Hospital President Shane Knisley and CNE Superintendent Michael Brandt reiterated that point when they talked to the crowd.
“People don’t have access to convenient care. This is really going to fill a need and I’m sure as that need will continue to grow, we will build off the services that we start here,” Knisley said.
Brandt spent much of his educational career in urban settings, including Cincinnati Public Schools and Newport City Schools, before taking over at CNE in 2015.
“Coming here to a rural environment, I was startled by some of the challenges that people had here trying to find quality medical care, so having this new ability to treat students here and for the community to have something here is really vital,” Brandt said.
That lack of access to health care was the district’s main thesis as it pursued the partnership, Dorsey said. The Ohio Department of Education invited interested parties to meetings in Columbus, to discuss and educate about creating school-based health care systems and partnerships.
“So we really started telling the story about how access to care is an issue and transportation is an issue in rural American and rural Ohio. Our story and the narrative of the community was one that we really wanted to explore,” Dorsey said. “We were fortunate for the opportunity to collaborate with Mercy Health. The vast network of Mercy was one of the first things we thought of, and that partnership has been great from the very beginning. We were very fortunate,
“(Principal) Mr. (T.J.) Glassmeyer at the high school was able to give space for the project. Having the space was a huge step in making the project affordable and a viable option for Mercy. Mr Glassmeyer was also an incredible person to collaborate with during the construction phase,” Dorsey said.
The district also reached out to Interact for Health, a Greater Cincinnati organization that describes itself as “a catalyst for health and wellness,” for help with funding. Interact for Health has an incredible skill set and deep knowledge on how to support such an impactful project. Francie Wolgrin and Susan Sprigg are real community change agents, and the resources they provided will be forever remembered, Dorsey said.
“Mercy Health also had an incredible team of employees supporting the project from the very beginning as well,” Dorsey said “It was amazing to see how Lisa Sweeterman, Liz Wilson, Stephanie Eberle and Kelley Dames all play pivotal roles in making the dream of developing the site a reality. I have never been a part of a more determined project. The team at Mercy continued to fight for this project and our community throughout the pandemic.”
CNE officials began pursuing the partnerships in March 2018. District custodial started gutting the space, which is at the back of the high school near the northeast corner of the football field, last Christmas, with plans to begin construction Jan. 1. Funding issues, and the eventual spring shutdowns, delayed that until June.
Stonelick Township Trustee Mo Cooper, who also coaches cross country at CNE High School, attended the dedication and talked about the importance of the center to the community at large. CNE’s campus is in Stonelick Township.
“I think it’s two-fold. A, it’s going to help our citizens, and B, as an employer, we have several employees that can utilize this … vaccinations, someone gets injured, we can bring our employees right here and we don’t have to wait or go anywhere outside of our area. Everything is right here that we need,” Cooper said.
“It’s just going to kick it up. It’s going to make it very easy for the people of our community. It just gives us another tool in the toolbox to help better our health.”
Board of Education President Karen Crawford noted that students can now be treated on site if they feel ill, which reduces missed class time and absenteeism. The center also will draw residents, who may not have children in the district, as well as former students and others, back to campus.
“We’re right here in the heart of the community. People go by here all the time, so they can stop and get their health care whenever they need that, and they get to come and visit the campus. A lot of the (alumni) get to come back and see all the changes and just the positivity that’s happening here at CNE,” Crawford said.
The health center has separate, secured entrances for members of the public and school personnel. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Appointments are not required.