Health center at Rickards long in the making
By Anjelicia Bruton
An idea that almost didn’t materialize has come to fruition as a new health center at Rickards High School.
Proponents of the idea had turned to Tallahassee’s two primary healthcare providers to get it off the ground. There were no takers.
One unexpected phone call got the wheels in motion and Leon County School Superintendent Jackie Pons signed off on the initiative by Alan Cox, divisional director of Leon County Schools.
“Out of the blue, about two and half years ago Neighborhood Medical Center called me and they received a federal grant, a $3.5 million grant to provide healthcare to the underserved,” Cox said. “It was an answer to our prayers.”
Alexis Roberts McMillan, chair of the Board of Directors of Neighborhood Medical Center, said it was an easy choice to set up a clinic at Rickards.
“There could never be too many places where people are able to find medical health,” Roberts McMillan said. “We look at the Southside being enhanced by the fact that Neighborhood Medical Center has another door opened for them.”
The idea has been long in the making.
“When I was principal of Chiles High School for about 13 years and when Jackie moved me to the district about four years ago we started talking about a clinic that could serve not only the kids, but the community and the staff,” Cox said. “We visited a couple of districts that had district-based clinics, but we didn’t have the funding source.”
After identifying a funding source, Leon County Schools began plans to renew the Millicent Holifield Academy of Health Sciences on Rickards’ campus. The facility will be open before students return to school in two weeks.
The facility did not need mh renovations since it many as once used as a clinic for the school. There were only a few infrastructural changes that needed to be changed to get the school up to code required by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention standards, said Cox.
Medical service isn’t all that will be available, Cox said, adding that there’ll also be a food bank on the premises.
“We’re going to increase our dental program,” Cox said. “We can now bus kids from the local elementary schools to that facility to have that done.”
Jim Croteau, interim CEO of Second Harvest, said that Rickards moving to a community health center was a perfect opportunity to provide their services.
“It gives us the opportunity for more services to be provided to the students, the parents and the overall community,” he said. “Second Harvest is very excited about working with Leon County Schools helping kids that have families that have a need to more resources.”
Having a health center at Rickards started with the vision of Millicent Holifield for whom the building that houses the clinic is named. Her son, Edward, said his mother would be amazed at what has materialized.
But at first it wasn’t popular, especially because it would have provided a place for Black nurses to practice during segregation.
“I don’t think she could imagine it, I really don’t,” he said. “They gave her hell; they really did. She had to fight for that program. It was always a battle, but she would not give up. That was not part of her DNA.”
Edward Holifield praised the effort of the school board.
“The school board recognized that health was an important component of their well-being,” he said. “The students needed decent health care and dental care. I have to congratulate the school board. They took the initiative.”