Careers In Motion STCC’s Renovated Clinics Provide Real-world Experience In Health Care Professions

It was the last run of the night. Marvin Barry was wrapping up a long day of skiing in New York’s Catskills, when his last trip down the mountain — and his life, as it would turn out — took a fateful turn.

He wound up hitting a tree on the edge of the course, knocking him unconscious.

He woke up the next morning with several health concerns, including severe frostbite in his feet that has resulted in a number of surgical procedures over the years.

Following the latest one several months ago, he required a lengthy period of rehabilitation, one that wouldn’t be fully covered by his insurance.

It was this set of circumstances, and a timely referral, that led Barry to the Campus Rehab Clinic at Springfield Technical Community College, where he spends two hours each Tuesday on a an array of exercises that have brought steady progress in his effort to move without benefit of a wheelchair.

Barry is one of many area residents to benefit from a number of clinics of the STCC campus, from cosmetology to dental hygiene, created to provide educational opportunities for students, and also a wide range of care to area residents. They are now in newly renovated homes within the college’s health and sciences complex.

The $5 million project, completed earlier this year, provides larger, more modern space, said Michael Foss, dean of the School of Health, but also what he called a more collegial and inter-disciplinary environment.

“We took this as an opportunity to reorganize programs that are similar in nature, while also reshaping the School of Health,” he explained. “What we have now is a much more inter-disciplinary approach to health education.”

That approach was on display earlier this month at an open house attended by area health care professionals, STCC students and faculty, and students, teachers, and guidance counselors from area high schools. They had a chance to see students in a wide range of fields getting some real-life experience.

Meanwhile, the visitors were getting a close look at some of the professionsseeing growing demand for trained professionals. Tours of the Health Sciences complex, or Building 20 as its known, also included an in-depth look at the college’s so-called Virtual Hospital. A comprehensive learning facility, and one of the few of its kind in the country, the SIMS Medical Center uses computer-controlled patient simulators to enable students to learn by doing.

Like the clinics, the virtual hospital creates a unique learning environment, one that Foss and others at the school believe will inspire people to consider health careers.

“We want to let people know about the many careers in health care, and also let them know about us,” Foss explained.

“Not enough people know about the opportunities that exist in health care; we want to create awareness and have people understand that if they want to explore, we want to work with them.”

Care Package

The sign outside says Health and Wellness Center.

That’s the name given, collectively, to three of the renovated clinics at STCC — occupational therapy assistant, physical therapist assistant, and massage therapy, which have been providing services to area residents for several years. Foss and the directors of the programs involved with the clinics say the renovated facilities, improved access, and inter-disciplinary nature of the clinics should increase traffic to them.

As she assisted Barry with his roster of exercises, Linda Desmarais, chair of STCC’s Physical Therapist Assistant program, said the PTA clinic serves to build bridges. For patients, or clients, she explained, the facility’s services fill the gap between the amount of care needed and the amount insurance (or the patient) can or will pay for.

Meanwhile, for the students, the PTA Clinic provides a bridge between the classroom and clinic work done by students in area hospitals and rehabilitation facilities.

“It helps the faculty create a bridge to the clinics where our students will work,” said Desmarais, noting that the Physical Therapist Assistant program provides students with opportunities both on campus, at the clinic, and also in outreach programs at area elder care and assisted living facilities such as Springfield’s St. Luke’s Home.

The same is true of the occupational therapy clinic, located next door to the PTA facility, said Foss, noting that none of the clinics on the campus are actually competing with area professionals.

Instead, they fill gaps in health care services while providing invaluable experience to students.

Through referrals, word-of-mouth advertising, and some direct marketing — the school’s Cosmetology Client Lab distributes a flyer and advertises in the local newspaper, for example — the clinics draw steady volumes of business.

The massage therapy clinic, for example, which is staffed by students in the only accredited associate’s degree program in that field in the state, can handle 24 one-hour appointments a week, and is fully booked for the remainder of the semester, said department chair Bernadette Della Bitta Nicholson.

The clinic draws a number of students, staff, and faculty members from the college, she explained, but also many area professionals who want to take some of the stress out of their lives, and at rates that are roughly one-third of what is charged in the marketplace.

The PTA, OTA, and massage therapy clinics are located in a suite of offices and treatment rooms occupying what was once a cafeteria, said Foss, noting that many health programs have been expanded and relocated as a part of a broad renovation of Building 20.

The Cosmetology Client Lab, for example, was moved into larger quarters on the second floor of the building, complete with a waiting room. There, students in a one-year certificate program practice on mannequins in a lab and also provide a variety of services to walk-in clients, including hair cutting and styling, scalp treatments, and manicures.

Marilyn Rovelli, chair of the cosmetology program, said the department has operated a clinic, or salon, for nearly 30 years, and that the program has enjoyed steady growth in that time, in terms of both enrollment and clientele.

And she expects that trend to continue, thanks in part to new facilities that provide better visibility and a more modern learning environment.

Healthy Investment

As he walked on a treadmill with some assistance from Desmarais, Barry said he was tired, but feeling better and stronger with each day.

The PTA clinic has given him an opportunity he might not otherwise have had, he explained.

The facilities work in similar ways for students, said Foss and other administrators at STCC, who believe the school has created a truly unique environment in which to work — and learn.