NEW ALBANY, Ind. (WDRB) -- A student health clinic could open inside New Albany High School, giving students access to a doctor without the cost.

"We need to start putting services in our schools that will meet the needs of our students," said Dr. Louie Jensen, associate superintendent of New Albany Floyd County Schools.

Access to health care is a major need at the high school, with 12,000 visits to the school nurse's clinic each year.

"They'll use that primarily as their doctor because they don't have one," said Jensen.

Many students can't afford a doctor or don't have insurance. Other families can't afford copays. That leaves some students going to school sick or in pain.

"If you have these challenges, both mentally or physically, you're not going to be in a situation where you can learn," Jensen said.

It's why the school district wants to open a health clinic, offering primary care during school hours, inside New Albany High School for students. The clinic will accept private insurance and Medicaid, but it won't force families to pay the bill.

"Regardless if you can pay or not pay," Jensen added. "If they can't pay it, they'll waive that fee."

The school district is partnering with LifeSpring Health Systems in southern Indiana.

"Really, what we're trying to do is just close gaps in the community," said Dr. Beth Keeney, LifeSpring's senior vice president for community health and primary care services.

The pilot program at NAHS could be first of its kind, and more schools in the district could open clinics in the future, said Jensen, acknowledging that the plan has received both support and some criticism.

"I've received a couple phone calls and emails, and some people think it's too much government. Some people think we're trying to compete against local doctors ... We're just trying to help kids," he said.

The district already offers free mental health care and is looking to expand services due to more kids in need.

"The world is changing and students are coming to us, unfortunately, with baggage," said Jensen.

The school board will take a vote on the plan this summer. If it passes, the clinic will open next school year.

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