SUNY JCC Health Centers Help Students Achieve Happy, Healthy & Successful Lives

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SUNY JCC

For 20 years, Charlene Johnson has been the first point of contact and a friendly face for students seeking care from the health center at SUNY Jamestown Community College.

As an administrative assistant, she has witnessed many changes over the last two decades in the way the college cares for students. The greatest change, Johnson said, is the growing number of students coming for help with mental health challenges and, in turn, how JCC has adapted to meet those needs.

“It’s a lot bigger,” she said.

While it might seem obvious for a student to venture to the health center for help with a headache or another physical ailment, that only scratches the surface of care they can receive from JCC’s health center staff.

“We use a holistic model,” said Paula Snyder, the executive director of the Cattaraugus County Campus and longtime former nurse manager at the college. “We take care of the mind, body, and spirit of the student. Those three sound elements equal academic success. We support the academic path of the student through that.”

It was welcomed news on campus when JCC’s health centers opened to students and employees for the first time in nearly a year this past March. Their operating hours for the fall period are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the college’s Jamestown and Cattaraugus County campuses.

The centers are led by registered nurses Kathy Manhart in Jamestown and Roger Johnson on the Cattaraugus County Campus in Olean.

Manhart came to JCC full time two years ago after subbing at the college and for Jamestown Public Schools. More than once she has seen a student stop in for a minor physical problem only to linger in the office to chat after being treated.

Following 30 years of hospital work, she has enjoyed building relationships with students — an element, she said, is vital to being a good college nurse.

“You take care of the immediate needs, but you have the ability to establish a rapport and friendship with the students, and they will come back with other concerns,” Manhart said. “That’s been one of the really nice things about being here in a college setting is you get to see the students repeatedly and establish a rapport and trust. When they come to you because they have a massive head cold, you have the opportunity to let them see you and feel the care that we give in the health center, and then they come back for other issues as well.”

Roger Johnson said the college’s health center is “a safe space where students can come and feel safe.”

“We build trust,” he said.

“Sometimes,” he added “people just need someone to talk to, and by speaking with them we can make the determination whether it’s something they just need to get off their chest as opposed to needing to speak to a counselor.”

The health center staff often refer students to JCC’s counselors, who then may refer students to an outside agency for therapy or other care. The college has also compiled a contact list of regional resources for students and community members who are seeking help with emotional and mental health, food needs, family care, transportation, job readiness, and more. The resources can be found at sunyjcc.edu/gethelp.

Conversations shared between patients and JCC health center staff are confidential. In some instances, however, staff is obligated to report information when there is reasonable cause (such as a case of abuse, discrimination, or a threat to harm oneself or others).

“This is very important, especially if there is a known history,” Roger Johnson said. “Nurses are mandatory reporters, and in some instances we can’t keep such information private. This is for the safety of the student or staff who confide in us.”

Johnson, who started at JCC in January, feels at home at the school where he earned a degree in nursing.

From a young age, Johnson had aspirations of following his grandmother, mother, and two aunts into the healthcare field. He was born and raised in Jamaica West Indies and came to the U.S. with his family in 1981, residing in New Jersey.

“At the time, there was this stigma as it pertains to male nurses,” he said. “Guys weren’t nurses. Or there weren’t many of us anyways.”

So, instead of nursing, Johnson attended DeVry University after high school to become a computer technician. He worked for Bristol Myers Squibb in its consumer product division until he and 3,500 other employees were laid off after part of the company was sold to Procter & Gamble.

Looking back, the severance was a blessing. Johnson, seeking a career change, moved from New Jersey in 2002 to the Olean area, where he studied at BOCES to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and at JCC in 2009 to become a registered nurse. He served as an emergency room nurse at Olean General Hospital before coming to JCC.

“I wanted to go back to school for a career where I would be able to take care of my community no matter what community I moved to,” said Johnson, whose wife Jennifer is also a JCC nursing program alumnus.

Johnson and his fellow health center staff continue to conduct weekly COVID-19 testing for students and staff. They also check up on ill or quarantined patients by phone every day, including weekends.

All of it is a contrast from pre-COVID days, when Charlene Johnson was in charge of organizing sexual health clinics, Top Chef cooking competitions, sleep and relaxation seminars, arts and crafts activities, make your own sundae events, and spa days that quelled nerves and helped students find the right frame of mind for final exams.

Like the health centers reopening, those happenings have returned this academic year. And, more than passing out meds and doing checkups, JCC’s health center personnel stay dedicated to helping students be their best at all aspects of their lives.

“I enjoy working with the students,” Charlene Johnson said. “It’s always something different. They all have different personalities. Sometimes they just need to hear a kind voice.”