County adds social worker to schools

Published 8:00 am Friday, October 19, 2018

Blue Ridge Health has served 1,500 patients, reopened Collins Dental

COLUMBUS — Blue Ridge Health has made a real impact in Polk County since arriving just two years ago, and now is partnering with the county and the school system to add a permanent social worker at the schools.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday and heard from Blue Ridge Health officials Rebecca Mathis and Dr. Richard Hudspeth. Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene and Polk County Consolidated Human Services Director Joshua Kennedy also announced the new position at the middle school to provide behavioral health services for students in need. 

Rebecca Mathis

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Kennedy said the position will be funded through a $28,000 grant from Polk County Schools, and the remainder from the department of health and human services. The full-time, temporary school/in-home social worker position will be funded for two years, with a full salary, including benefits, of $50,932.

Greene said the position is part of a larger effort that will begin with behavioral health.

“We have plenty of students who need that,” Greene said. “The social worker piece is essential.”

Greene said this has never been done in Polk County, and the school system is seeing just over half of students who need to be served that are served. The social worker will be housed at the middle school, but will travel to other schools, as well as homes.

Commissioners approved the new position. 

Dr. Richard Hudspeth

Blue Ridge Health is a nonprofit community health center that was founded in Henderson County in 1963 and came to Polk County in 2016.

Blue Ridge Health, located in the Columbus Commons off Highway 108 in Columbus, provides a variety of health services, including primary care, patient navigation services, a pharmacy to deliver medicine to homes  and psychiatric services, as well as the pediatric dental services at Collins Dental, located on White Drive in Columbus. Blue Ridge Health reopened the Collins Dental Center which had closed in May over the summer.

Hudspeth said the first year Blue Ridge Health was in Polk County, it served 1,000 unduplicated patients, and is now up to almost 1,500 patients.

Blue Ridge Health also has a physician who works with opioid-addicted mothers.

“We’ve had a number of positive outcomes in that growth and relationships already,” Hudspeth said.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he could not thank Blue Ridge Health, County Manager Marche Pittman and Kennedy enough for their work on getting Collins Dental Center reopen.

Hudspeth said Gasperson contacted him about Blue Ridge Health stepping in to take over Collins Dental Center after it was closed earlier this year.

Commissioner Tommy Melton also said if Polk County had lost Collins Dental, it would have been a tragedy for Polk County.

“We were grateful we did have all the support of the community,” Hudspeth said.