ITHACA, N.Y. — When Dr. Marguerite Uphoff was appointed medical director of the Ithaca City School District in 1992, school nurses were conducting nearly 400 physical exams of students annually because children had no other medical care.
While the exams fulfilled the district requirements, Dr. Uphoff came to realize that the school checkups were not helping students improve their health. “If we found something, it just didn’t get followed up,” she said. “We could send home a note and say we found this, but the information just didn’t go anyplace.”
So Dr. Uphoff and the school nurses launched a campaign to connect more of the students with doctors in the community by showing the families how to buy health insurance. By the time she retired as medical director last summer, the number of children having annual school physicals in the Ithaca City School District had dropped to fewer than 100.
Helping students access regular medical care was one of the many accomplishments Dr. Uphoff achieved in her 25 years as the medical director of the Ithaca City School District, the Lansing School District and Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga BOCES.
To honor Dr. Uphoff’s dedication and support for children and families in the community, nurses from the Ithaca City School District have created the Dr. Marguerite Uphoff Endowment Fund. The fund will support Community Foundation of Tompkins County’s Children and Youth Fund, which awards grants to nonprofit organizations that serve youth.
“Forever the children in this community who have health issues, no matter what they are, will benefit from this endowment fund,” said Judy Hoffman, the former head nurse at the Ithaca City School District, who is spearheading the fund drive. She added, “I think that using the Community Foundation was the perfect way to create this fund.”
Hoffman and other supporters are seeking to raise the initial goal of $10,000 for the endowment as soon as possible and are inviting community members to make donations to the fund to address the growing needs of children in Tompkins County.
Sandy Koch, the Lansing Central School District coordinator of health services, said it was a fitting tribute to Dr. Uphoff to have a fund established in her honor that will serve children. “Not only did she do a fabulous job, but she was driven by it,” Koch said. “Even in her retirement, her brain is still working on how she can have an impact on kids’ health and learning, even though she’s no longer the medical director.”
Since starting her private practice in 1971, Dr. Uphoff has treated literally thousands of children in the community, watching them grow from infants to college students. Many of the teachers in area schools who were her patients now take their children to her.
“I think she has seen in our community three generations,” said Hoffman, who worked with Dr. Uphoff for more than 20 years. “It’s mind-blowing how many people she’s touched in our community.”
Dr. Uphoff continues to see patients three days a week at Northeast Pediatrics in Lansing and has no definite plans to retire from private practice.
One of Dr. Uphoff’s accomplishments as medical director was creating a peanut-free policy in the Ithaca City School District to counter an increasing incidence of allergic reactions to peanut products. Peanut-free tables were set up in school cafeterias and children were asked not to bring in peanut snacks into classrooms.
“There was no policy,” Dr. Uphoff said. “If a parent was concerned about a child being allergic, they could talk to the teachers, but we took it on as a district-wide policy.”
In the past decade, Dr. Uphoff said she has noticed a new trend in Ithaca’s schools: an increasing number of children with emotional health problems. She hopes the new endowment fund and the Community School Health Advisory Committee, which she created in 2015, will help address this issue.
George Ferrari, CEO of Community Foundation, said that 54 percent of grants awarded by the Children and Youth Fund over the past two years has addressed mental health needs of children. The fund has given grants to organizations such as the Mental Health Association’s Kids First Summer Recreation Program and Family and Children’s Service of Ithaca.
“An endowment exists to solve problems in the future that we don’t know about right now,” Ferrari said. “This endowment fund will allow us to address the changing needs of youth and children in our community.”