When Ashley Gee was asked to picture where she would be 10 years after graduation – which is now – she had big ambitions.
“I wrote: I’m going to save Schenectady,” Gee recalled Wednesday as she stood in her new office inside Schenectady High School.
While Schenectady may not yet be “saved,” Gee has returned to her old high school as a nurse practitioner at the district’s two new school-based health clinics run by Hometown Health – one at the high school and the second at Mont Pleasant Middle School.
“I didn’t know I would be a nurse practitioner here, but I knew I would come back,” said Gee, who grew up near Jerry Burrell Park and graduated from Schenectady High in 2006.
For now, Gee splits her time at the two school clinics – mornings at Mont Pleasant and afternoons at the high school – but as the number of students enrolled in the clinics grows, so will the number of nurse practitioners that staff them. As of Wednesday afternoon, when the district and Hometown Health hosted a formal ribbon cutting at the high school, roughly 300 students had enrolled in the program.
The Mont Pleasant clinic also serves Hamilton Elementary School, with the district providing transportation from the elementary school to the clinic for students that need care, but students outside of those two schools or the high school are not eligible for clinic services.
The pair of clinics, which were funded by grants and wrapped into a districtwide building project, have been a longtime in the making. The district and Hometown Health have spent multiple years pushing the project through administrative and regulatory hurdles at the state Health and Education departments.
Now that the clinics are built and fully stocked, they should be sustained through Medicaid reimbursement for the care they provide, Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring said.
“We will be providing healthcare to possibly up to 4,000 kids in a convenient, comprehensive way,” Hometown Health CEO Joe Gambino said, alluding to the total student population at the three schools eligible for the new clinic services. “It’s a great day in Schenectady.”
The formal event Wednesday comes as the district and Hometown Health ramp up an effort to enroll as many students as possible in the clinics. For students to receive the clinic services, families have to fill out a one-page document that provides parental or guardian consent.
Once enrolled, students can drop by the clinic, which is open during school hours, to receive traditional primary, preventative and other routine care. Melinda Gilmore, medical director at Hometown Health, said the school clinics won’t replace the pediatricians or other primary physicians that students and their families are happy with, but they can serve as a first stop if a student gets sick or is injured while at school – an urgent care and early intervention resource. She also said the same laws and regulations that protect patient privacy at any health clinic or doctor’s office also apply to the school-based clinic. The health information acquired at the clinic would not be shared with school officials, Gilmore said, citing a “firewall.”
But the school district and Schenectady-based healthcare nonprofit aren’t satisfied with just the two health clinics that are now open; there are far too many students that still won’t have access to those services, Gambino and Spring said Wednesday.
“It’s just a beginning; we have many more kids in the district that need these services,” Spring said, adding that the district is always looking for funding opportunities to expand the student healthcare services.
In the meantime, Gee and her colleagues are busy at work, meeting with students for physicals and providing required vaccinations like the recently-mandated meningococcal vaccine. Gee said she has done “a million sports physicals,” pointing out that students will stop by and tell her that they need to get a physical done so they can make it to practice “in five minutes.”
When meeting with students, Gee said, she can connect with the life experiences they may have, since many of those life experiences are her own.
“It’s nice you don’t have to say much, and you know they get it,” she said. “You look in someone’s eyes, and you know they get it.”
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.