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By Kelly Merchan
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  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development
Access to healthcare among low-income rural youth stands as a pressing concern in the landscape of public health in rural New York. School-Based Health Centers (SBHC) have emerged as a promising solution to enhance healthcare accessibility, however, the specific impact of SBHCs in rural communities remains unknown. With new funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Cornell faculty will investigate how SBHCs are not only leaving a positive impact on students, but also on the wider community’s well-being and public services across four counties in upstate New York.

The project, "School-Based Health Centers - An approach to address health disparities among rural youth” is led by Sharon Tennyson, professor of public policy and economics; Mildred Warner, professor of city and regional planning and global development; John Sipple, professor of global development;  Elaine Wethington, professor emeritus of human development and sociology; and Xue Zhang, research associate in city and regional planning. The project is in collaboration with Jane Hamilton, RN, practice manager of Bassett Healthcare Network's School-Based Health Program, and Wendy Brunner, director of the Center for Rural Community Health at Bassett Research Institute.

Bassett Healthcare Network operates 22 SBHCs across the four low-income rural New York counties, providing medical, dental, and mental health care to students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. More than 7,000 students in 18 school districts are enrolled across the region. Bassett's School-Based Health services are available to all students enrolled in participating districts regardless of income, with no out-of-pocket costs to any student or family.

"The disparities in health among rural youth are deeply intertwined with broader issues of equality and access in our communities,” said Sipple. “Our research aims to shed light on how policy, linking local, state and federal levels, can play a pivotal role in ensuring that every child, regardless of their location or socioeconomic status, has access to quality healthcare and enhanced educational, social and economic outcomes."

The project proposes a multilevel mixed-methods evaluation, combining qualitative and quantitative data from various sources, including interviews, focus groups, administrative data, surveys, and patient healthcare visit data. “Our collaboration with Bassett Healthcare Network enables us to analyze patient records to assess the impact of SBHCs on child healthcare utilization and broader health and academic outcomes,” noted Tennyson.

According to Mildred Warner, the project’s approach goes beyond the healthcare system to examine how the structure of local services and communities can influence the health outcomes of rural youth.

“By understanding the intersections of government services and community planning, we aim to provide a holistic perspective that informs not only healthcare policies but also broader strategies for creating healthier, more supportive environments for youth in rural New York," said Warner.

“Bassett is thrilled to be partnering with Cornell University on this research project so that we can delve more deeply into the data and build a deeper understanding of the role of SBHCs in rural communities,” said Wendy Brunner of Bassett Healthcare Network. 

“This highly qualified team is the perfect group to undertake this project, which I believe is highly significant and likely to have an impact on youth health outcomes far beyond rural New York,” said Elaine Wethington, who has played a pivotal role as mentor to the project.  

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