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Margot Schinella ’06 Hits the Ground Running as Vassar’s New Director of Health Services

Most people who are starting a new job are able to take a few days to become acclimated to their new surroundings and new challenges. Margot Schinella ’06 had no such luxury when she became Vassar’s new Director of Health Services last August. More than 2,000 students would be arriving on campus in less than a week in the midst of a global pandemic. Their COVID-19 test results would have to be gathered and analyzed. Protocols would have to be implemented to ensure the safety of everyone at the College, and much of the responsibility for a successful reopening would rest with Schinella and her staff.

Director of Health Services Margot Schinella ’06Photo: Courtesy of Margot Schinella

Fortunately for everyone in the Vassar community, Schinella was uniquely qualified to meet these formidable challenges. After graduating from Vassar, she returned to the campus and worked as a per diem nurse for the college health clinic. After obtaining certification as a Family Nurse Practitioner, she worked in that capacity as Director of Student Health Services at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. And perhaps most importantly, Schinella said, she had learned about crisis management while working as a charge nurse at two local hospital emergency rooms. “Being an ER nurse, you’re constantly shifting gears, changing on the fly, so that took a little of the fear out of the situation when I arrived at Vassar,” she said.

Schinella said her immediate challenge involved developing a ‘Medicat Patient Portal’ that would be used by the students to upload their pre-arrival COVID test results and self-schedule other appointments. “We had about 48 hours to make the portal go live,” she said, “and within 24 hours of launching the portal, we had hundreds of test results to review. The students did everything we asked, but the challenge was processing all that information in such a short period of time.”

Throughout the pandemic, Schinella has been meeting weekly with members of the Dutchess County Department of Health as well as health services representatives at other local colleges to share information and troubleshoot as problems arise.

While the challenges triggered by the pandemic continue, Schinella said she has remained committed to providing all of the services the department has to offer and implementing any necessary changes and improvements. “We had to re-think our clinical work flow to reduce density and develop a process to offer confidential virtual visits,” she said. “We’ve been able to add that successfully, and the students have been receptive.”

Schinella said she had been working closely with three student groupsthe Student Wellness Committee, CHOICE (an organization that focuses on reproductive health), and Vassar College Emergency Medical Services (VCEMS)—meeting with group representatives on a regular basis. Despite the urgency of COVID-related issues, she said her staff continues to work on two new initiatives: STI/HIV screening and expanded emergency contraceptive options in collaboration with mail order contraceptive delivery system, the expansion of gynecological services, and a more comprehensive HIV prevention program.