By Jerome A. Steele
Rural schools face unique challenges in serving students’ educational, social-emotional and health needs. Hadley-Luzerne Central School District has responded to this challenge by developing robust partnerships with Hudson Headwaters Health Network and Parsons Child and Family Center to develop what Superintendent Beecher Baker Sr. calls a “holistic approach to educating the whole child.” The student-centered collaboration between the district and its health care partners has resulted in the opening of the Hudson Headwaters Hadley-Luzerne Student Health Center, a pediatric and adolescent health center at Stuart M. Townsend Elementary School in October of 2019. CASDA was recently given a tour of the facility and spoke with Superintendent Baker and Kevin Dougrey of Hudson Headwaters to understand how this unique collaboration works.
The partnership between Hadley-Luzerne and Hudson Headwaters developed after financial constraints ended a similar relationship with Glens Falls Hospital two years ago. Baker recognized that a school-based health center was the best way to make health care accessible to his students. He stated, “our district covers a wide geographic area. Students from the towns of Day and Stony Creek have hour-long bus rides to school, so you can imagine how far it is to access good health care.” More than 50 percent of Hadley-Luzerne’s students are classified as economically disadvantaged by NYSED (17-18 school year), creating even greater urgency for the district. Baker acknowledged this saying, “we’re a rural district with some high poverty, so we felt doing this was imperative for our children.” He reached out to Kevin Dougrey, Chief of Medical Staff Operations at Hudson Headwaters, to start a dialog about a potential partnership.
Dougrey stated that Hudson Headwaters had been considering a school-based health center for some time and that Hadley-Luzerne represented “a perfect storm of enthusiasm, need, and community support.” As a non-profit provider, making healthcare accessible is at the core of Hudson Headwaters’ mission. Dougrey said, “as a federally qualified health center, we are able to provide care for the Medicaid population.” Their status as a federally qualified health center (FQHC), however, comes with certain requirements. Dougrey spoke to some initial concern around this issue saying “we understood that this was maybe a somewhat conservative district, but since this was one of our requirements as an FQHC, we were lucky that Beecher was able to work with us on that.” Baker explained “these are conversations I would have with my Board of Education. They saw the need for the health center and thought it would be wonderful for our kids. So it really was not as challenging as it may be in other places.”
The services offered are extremely thorough. Dougrey described the health center as offering “pretty comprehensive pediatric care.” He continued, “we can schedule regular appointments. If there’s a chronic asthma patient or a child with juvenile diabetes, they can receive their regular monthly, or semi-monthly checkup. We can also handle walk-ins run it as an urgent care - if there’s a flu going around, or stomach bugs, we can handle that as well.” Nurse Practitioner Lia Braico stated, “We can take cultures to diagnose strep throat or pink-eye, really we can do everything except the x-rays.”
While the student health center offers robust physical health services, Parsons provides essential behavioral and mental health support as well. Baker said, “prior to Parsons’ involvement, we just had your regular psychologist, social workers and counselors, which made it difficult for parents whose child may have some mental health needs.” He continued, “now we have that alignment between physical health and mental health and we can make both accessible to our families.” Dougrey emphasized the importance of the care manager’s role in facilitating access for all: “If there are transportation needs, we can always contact the right people to help out. They’ve identified some of the socioeconomic barriers, whether it’s proper nutrition or oral hygiene, the care manager can help dig in a little further on those issues.”
Despite offering extremely robust services already, both Baker and Dougrey see room for growth. Baker said “right now we are open from 8-noon, and we’ve had conversations about extending the hours a little later in the day.” He continued “in the morning, we tend to see your regular illnesses like colds and flus, but in the afternoon, we tend to see more injuries after recess. With kids and monkey bars, things happen. So we’ve started a discussion to explore how we can keep it open and operating a bit longer.” Baker also spoke to a relationship between providing health care and improving student attendance, “having this here supports students’ physical and mental well-being, we want to help our kids be healthy enough to be here learning.”
This collaboration has removed barriers for students and families in accessing health care. No student is ever turned away because of an inability to pay. Working to provide this service reflects a realization of the student-centered values of Hadley-Luzerne and Hudson Headwaters’ community health mission. Baker summarized the work stating, “We are trying to serve the whole child. We have the academic piece in place and the social piece. Now we are offering health care and mental health support. We really are trying to do everything we can for our children.”