Dr. Gina O'Brien: School-Based Health and Starting Healthy Habits

Dr. Gina O'Brien
Dr. Gina O'Brien

Good health habits begin during childhood. Providing a bright future for school-aged kids is the mission of Bassett Healthcare Network's School-Based Health Centers (SBHCs). With over 20 sites in 17 school districts across four counties, SBHC is an important — but often underutilized — service in our community.

"I don't think many people realize how much we offer," explains Dr. Gina O'Brien, SBHC's senior attending physician and pediatrician at Gilbertsville-Mount Upton Central School.

"All our sites include medical, mental health, nutrition, and dental services, with labs to draw blood and complete infection rapid tests. Very seldom do even traditional pediatric offices include all these facilities and services, let alone in schools."

The way SBHC provides care is as much a part of their service as the care itself. By operating in schools, students are able to make all their important health appointments without parents needing to negotiate changes to their work schedule. 

Even more importantly, SBHC is able to offer their services without any charges to the parents thanks to grants and private donations that cover insurance copays and additional fees.

"There are two things parents need to know about School-Based Health," says Dr. O'Brien. "The first is that we have clinics open and accessible all year round — including during school vacations and summer breaks. We can help kids get caught up on physicals and immunizations needed for summer camps and the start of school.

"The second is that any student can have an appointment at our office — even if they have a different primary care physician. If your PCP is booked and you need an appointment, we can help."

Parents can connect with their local school-based clinic through the school's administrative office during the academic year. To make appointments when your school is not in session, call 1-844-ALL-SBHC or 1-844-255-7242.

Resetting Your Family's Healthy Habits

"If there's anything we've learned from COVID-19, it's that you can't control much of what's going on around you," reflects Gina O'Brien, MD, FAAP, CPE. "But you can control what's going on within you and within your family. Establishing healthy habits can be a way to take back your life." Here are some ideas:

  • Remember 5-2-1-0: 5+ fruits and vegetables a day, 2 hours or less of recreational screen time, 1 hour or more of physical activity, 0 sugary drinks.
  • Process your experiences with a counselor: The pandemic has marked our lives with stress, loneliness, loss of control and mourning, among other things. A counselor can help you and your children recover and come out stronger.
  • Reschedule routine wellness visits: Don't forget to set up regular medical, dental, and vision appointments again. And remember to do the same for yourself — not just your kids.
  • Practice hygiene: We can become a bit lax about hygiene when housebound for long periods of time. But bathing, putting on clean clothes, and brushing teeth is just as important as ever. Remind your kids and yourself.
  • Be kind to yourself: There's no need to feel guilty if you've made some less-healthy choices during challenging times. Just do your best going forward.