A rural school district in Dutchess County is getting ready to construct a health center at its school. The center was supposed to be up and running by now but the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the process.
Charles Davis has been a school nurse at the Webutuck Central School District in Amenia since January 2017. He says the idea for a school-based health center grew, in part, from inspiration from another nurse and the school she founded, where he earned his nurse practitioner degree — Frontier Nursing University.
“It was founded by a woman, a very famous nurse and her name is Mary Breckinridge, and she brought rural healthcare to the mountains of eastern Kentucky during the early 1920s when childbirth, when many women died in childbirth and, as a result, may newborns died as a result," Davis says. "So what she did was bring healthcare, both midwifery as well as family care, to, again, the very remoted regions of Kentucky.”
On horseback. This instilled in Davis a mission and passion in ensuring health care availability for underserved and underinsured communities.
“So when you look at the Webutuck Central School District, not that we’re in a mountainous region, per se, but we do have a population that fits a metric where it is 60 percent financially or economically challenged,” Davis says. “So in that we have some healthcare disparities, a significant amount of healthcare disparity in our school district.”
He says a $100,000 grant from the Foundation for Community Health helped put the plan in motion. Dr. Jen Eraca started last December in a newly created position of Director of Student Services and Curriculum and Instruction at the roughly 600-student Webutuck district.
“We are currently a district of 60 percent free and reduced lunch. We have a 22 percent special education classification rate, a growing ENL (English as a New Language) currently hitting 20 percent. Poverty, special education for healthcare access go hand in hand and creates a continuous cycle, and we are trying to break that cycle,” Eraca says. “And we’re starting with our basic and most fundamental of helping our underserved, but we are hoping for a long-term goal to broaden it to our community at large.”
Davis, known as Nurse Charlie, says the health clinic will serve all students of the district, no matter their financial need.
“We have three buildings – the elementary, the intermediate school and the high school — and all of those are within easy walking distance of one another. So we’ll be, we’ll have the school-based health center centrally located and easily accessible for all students that are enrolled for the services of the school-based health center,” says Davis.
There are no out-of-pocket expenses for any care provided by the health clinic, be it physical, mental or dental health. The clinic will be open when the school is open. And the hope is that with a health clinic on school grounds, parents and guardians would not have to take off work for a child’s health appointment. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the process of getting the clinic up and running by about a year. The revised schedule calls for breaking ground in June and holding a ribbon cutting next September. The health center is in collaboration with Open Door Family Medical Center, which runs health centers in the Ossining School District in Westchester County. Davis and Eraca looked to Ossining as a model for their health center, though Eraca points out that the Webutuck district is in a much different setting.
“I think it’s unique in the sense that we are land rich but tax poor,” says Eraca. “We have 88 square miles of beautiful rolling hills and beautiful farms. It’s beautiful yet it’s isolated and it’s, it’s, there’s a tremendous need for access to health care.
The Webutuck District is an Amenia, where access to health care in general is limited, with some heading over the Connecticut border for services. Again, Eraca:
“Webutuck is at a tipping point because of this. Not only is it going to have a positive effect on the student community, but will have improved class time, seat time, reduction in absenteeism and we’ll really be able to optimize student readiness for adult responsibility,” Eraca says. “So in terms of just the physical health, the overall well-being of our students will be capitalized on because of this project, and we are just thrilled by the opportunity.”
The health center will be in space repurposed near Davis’s office.
“It’s an ideal, ideal situation in an ideal setting for all students, but it’s the students and their families that ultimately make the decision, is that the healthcare delivery model for them,” Davis says.
Webutuck schools are in full remote learning status, with the hope of returning to a hybrid instruction model January 4.