Public education, public health is inextricably linked in Oklahoma City

April 10, 2017

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Public education and public health are inextricably linked. In fact, research shows that educational attainment is directly correlated to life expectancy. We need citizens to be educated to be healthy and we need healthy students to attain higher levels of education. Not a difficult concept, but much more difficult to implement in our world of services that can be scant and that many times exist in silos.

A partnership between Oklahoma City Public Schools and Oklahoma City County Health Department is breaking all paradigms and will result in a lasting course correction for students and their families at Parmelee Elementary School. A groundbreaking was held last week for the OKC County Health Department Southern Oaks Learning and Wellness Campus. It will be built at SW 67 and S Walker Avenue, literally in Parmelee Elementary School's backyard.

Services will be provided for the entire area; the facility will be an easily accessible and comprehensive approach to serving our citizens by providing primary care, behavioral health, food insecurity, domestic violence education and much more. The facility will house clinical services, health and wellness programs, auditorium and training, rooms for community use, a community fitness center, sports fields, trails and community gardens.

The public-private partnership approach is nothing new for the health department, as they used the same model for their facility in northeast Oklahoma City, where they see approximately 100 citizens per day. And, health outcomes are actually improving in the community, with the newly released wellness score outcome comparisons showing improved rates in All-Cause Mortality, Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, Stroke Mortality, Heart Disease Mortality and All Cancer Mortality.

Partners for the Southern Oaks facility include the City of OKC, OU Physicians, Oklahoma City Public Schools, Metropolitan Library System, the University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma City Community College, the OKC Energy and more. It was very exciting to share the news with outgoing City Councilman Pete White that the auditorium will bear his name. His leadership in pushing this project through its many complexities was a truly powerful force.

The focused approach to health and wellness services in northeast OKC and south OKC will go a long way in improving our overall wellness rankings in Oklahoma City and county. Even more importantly, it allows some of our most underserved groups to attain the health care they need and the improved quality of life they deserve. How this plays out in improved health outcomes and longevity will be proven over time. But, for the students at Parmelee Elementary, they will see immediate access to increased services, making them much more likely to attend school ready to learn. It's easy to understand why students with health issues have difficulty learning. But, studies have also shown that children dealing with trauma and behavioral issues are more likely to be suspended and even one suspension before ninth grade dramatically reduces a student's chances of graduating from high school. This is not acceptable and partnerships between school districts and public health professionals are the only way to change these results.

The planned grand opening for the Southern Oaks facility is in 2018. Let's hope the building process is seamless and fast.

Read Mary Mélon's original NewsOK article