Each week during Awareness Month, we will feature a story about a long-time leader and advocate for school-based health care on our blog. Our next blog features Dr. Chris Kjolhede, who has worked as a school-based health center physician for the better part of 20 years in upstate New York.
Dr. Chris Kjolhede first entered the school-based health care field about 20 years ago after he moved to upstate New York. “I was very interested in adolescent health,” said Kjolhede. “But I didn’t see ways for adolescents to get comprehensive, confidential health care in a rural area where everybody knows everybody.” He applied for a grant to open up three school-based health centers (SBHCs) in rural Otsego County, NY and hasn’t looked back since.
A veteran of the field, Kjolhede has some incredible stories from his experience as a physician and Director of School-Based Health Centers for the Bassett Healthcare Network. One of the SBHC teams Kjolhede manages diagnosed a child with Wilson’s disease and thanks to a subsequent liver transplant, the student is alive and thriving today. The medical team at another SBHC discovered type 1 diabetes in a five-year-old boy and provided the treatment he needed to continue to live a normal life. Kjolhede has witnessed children and adolescents who, thanks to the behavioral health services at their SBHC, decided not to run away or inflict harm on themselves.
“Those stories are all the really attractive things to say,” explained Kjolhede. “But the biggest achievement we have is that we are seeing kids on a daily basis for run-of-the-mill stuff and taking good care of kids and families in this rural area.” For a leader like Kjolhede, it’s about cultivating relationships with his students and making sure they are present at school, healthy and ready to learn. He takes inspiration from helping children and adolescents with their earaches and twisted ankles. “It’s not headlines. It’s just what we do every day. We’re there for these kids.”
Kjolhede’s passion for bringing health care to children in rural areas inspired him to get actively involved with the School-Based Health Alliance. “The organization is a resource for me. I know I can pick up the phone and ask for the latest on SBHCs and academic outcomes for a school board meeting, for example. And that’s very, very helpful to have at my fingertips,” said Kjolhede.
Kjolhede’s advice for the school-based health movement? Enhance advocacy efforts on the local, state, and national levels. “Legislators need to hear us and we need to be out there advocating on a daily basis because it’s eminently clear that school-based health care is the right thing to do.”