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KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee and Knox County Schools Wednesday celebrated a partnership that has helped thousands of local children to better health.

Representatives from state and local government, UT, and Knox County schools and health department marked the eight-year anniversary of the Vine Middle Magnet School Health Clinic.

Dr. Nan Gaylord, UT assistant professor of Nursing, said UT nursing faculty members give primary care at the clinic, which has been in operation since 1996. Clinic staff also work with Dr. Larry Rodgers of UT Pediatrics Consultants, and a registered nurse is provided by Knox County Schools Health Services.

Gaylord said the clinic saw about 4,500 students age 3-21 years in 2003. UT graduate nursing students serve a year at the clinic, doing screenings, examinations, and interventions under UT faculty supervision.

Immunizations, routine physicals, and treatment of minor trauma, asthma, head lice, colds, and sore throats are typical services. The clinic was especially helpful this year in the battle against a particularly bad influenza virus.

“We utilized a state program called Vaccines for Children to get 180 doses of flu vaccine and administered it all before the holidays,” Gaylord said. “We knew it was going to be bad, and we pushed hard to vaccinate the kids that we saw, whether they were there for minor illnesses or physicals. We immunized everyone we possibly could.”

Wednesday’s program included a history of the clinic and tours for visitors.

The health center started in a small teacher lounge in the main Vine Middle building and provided services in more than 2,600 encounters with students.

Four years ago, the clinic moved to a renovated space in an annex behind the building with four exam rooms, an in-take center, and an office.

Aleece Stewart, Knox County Schools director of health services, said the clinic has increased access for students who might “fall between the cracks” of the established health care system.

“It (the clinic) is a safety net for children who could not access medical care quickly in any other way,” Stewart said. “Children who need to be seen by a doctor rather quickly that may or may not have insurance can be seen at the clinic regardless of their ability to pay. It has been a lifesaver.”