School-based Hometown Health clinics at Schenectady High School and Mont Pleasant Middle School have expanded to reach more than 1,000 students and are continuing to add services.
The clinics – opened in November 2016 as a partnership between the school district and Hometown Health – added a mental health counselor last year, started drawing blood for testing this year and plan to expand hours at the high school by the end of this school year.
“As people know we exist, they are coming to us,” said Ashley Kennedy, the clinics’ primary nurse practitioner, during an interview last week. “There’s a huge need, and we want to meet that.”
For now, Kennedy starts her day at Mont Pleasant, where the school’s clinic opens at 8 a.m., ahead of the start of the school day. In the afternoons, she shuttles to the high school, where the clinic remains open until 4:30 p.m.
By the end of this school year, Hometown Health Medical Director Cristine Espinosa said, the clinic at the high school will be open the entire school day, while a second nurse practitioner comes on board to cover morning hours at the Mont Pleasant clinic.
At the high school, 1,100 students are registered, with parental consent lined up in case they need the clinic's services. At Mont Pleasant, 275 students are signed up for the clinic, and another 60 students from Hamilton Elementary School can also use the clinic. Students in other elementary and middle schools in the district cannot yet use the clinics.
Among procedures available are physicals – especially before athletic seasons. If a student is missing a mandatory vaccine, the clinic has them on hand.
“We have every single one the CDC recommends,” Kennedy said of the clinic’s vaccine supply.
Kennedy takes blood for testing when a student has risk factors for cholesterol or diabetes. At the high school, she can screen students for sexually transmitted disease and provides contraception counseling. She prescribes medication and consults with a team of physicians at Hometown Health if needed. Starting last school year, a Hometown Health mental health counselor started visiting the high school clinic twice a week -- and the middle school clinic once a month.
Kennedy envisions the clinic growing to serve every student in the district – or at least providing access to every student in the district. She suggested a mobile program that would enable a practitioner to treat students during set time slots at different schools. Espinosa said Hometown Health is exploring different ways to expand services across the districts but added that no plans were ready to be announced.
Kennedy is a family nurse practitioner, meaning she can provide a wide range of services, including diagnostic testing, contraceptive counseling, annual health physicals and traditional primary care.
“Nurses are one of the most trusted professions – top three,” she said. “You can trust us.”
When she realized she was sending out for a lot of blood tests, she decided it was time to bring the service directly into the clinic. Getting state approval to do the blood draws in the clinic was a months-long battle.
The blood testing has also let the Hometown Health clinicians ramp up a fight against STD rates in the community, which have ticked up in recent years.
“We think that it’s important, being part of the schools and in the community, that way we can not only help provide education and prevention of STDs but also screen and treat as much as possible to reduce that rate,” Espinosa said.
The underlying mission of the clinics is to be as close to patients as possible. By having clinics in the schools, students don’t have to leave school for appointments, and parents don’t have to get out of work to take their kids to a doctor's office. In some cases, those types of barriers mean a kid won’t get to a provider at all.
“They are a challenging group to get to,” Espinosa said of school-aged kids. “As much as we can serve them where they are at, it’s the best outcome for the community.”
If students need medical care, Kennedy said, she plans to to be there for them.
“If school is here, then you can anticipate we will be here,” Kennedy said. “We don’t ever want to turn you away.”