It’s not uncommon for symptoms of the flu, strep throat or common illnesses to come on suddenly — even in the middle of the school day. One minute a student may be fine and the next they may be symptomatic.
Now thanks to Health Resources and Services Administration grants awarded to the Indiana Rural Health Association, students at Barr-Reeve, North Daviess and Loogootee schools can get the ball rolling on treatment for those illnesses and many others without a trip to the doctor’s office that often also requires parents or guardians to miss work.
On Thursday, a ribbon cutting was held to celebrate the opening of telehealth clinics at each of the schools. Indiana Rural Health Association also opened a clinic in Cloverdale the same day.
Using a special camera, trained school nurses now have the technology to check on student vitals while physicians from Daviess Community Hospital look on using even more state-of-the-art technology.
“Through these state-of-the-art clinics, rural students at North Daviess, Logootee and Barr-Reeve will have access to an Indiana licensed physician or provider from a hospital who will use high-tech and high-resolution diagnostic technology — such as an electronic otoscope or digital stethoscope — to digitally view ears, eyes, and throat as needed during a student’s visit,” said Kathleen Chelminiak, project director for Indiana Rural School Clinic Network.
The technology, which Barr-Reeve, Loogootee and North Daviess school nurses Mandy Ash, Tiffany Lingenfelter and Carrie Loheider have been trained on, will help get students the care they need sooner.
“We are really excited about this opportunity,” said North Daviess Elementary Principal Renee Judy. “Having telehealth in our schools is not a only a benefit to our students but also to our parents.”
North Daviess, which was the first school in the area to start the process of offering telehealth, should have its clinic up and running soon.
“We are hoping by the middle of next week, we will be ready to help students,” said Loheider, adding during student registration in July and August, parents and guardians were given the paperwork necessary for elementary students to be seen by health care professionals through the telehealth program.
That paperwork was then sent to Daviess Community Hospital so it would be on file should the student need telehealth services. The hospital will then bill families for what insurance does not pay; however, no student will be denied coverage or treatment because of lack of ability to pay.
“Small, rural schools are often limited in resources and opportunities,” said Barr-Reeve Superintendent Dr. Travis Madison. “We can only do things like this through great partnerships with the community. We are all in this for the same mission — to look out for our community and our kids.”
Madison said the jobs of school nurses is not like what it used to be, and without the support of those school nurses and other members of the staff, offering telehealth would not be possible.
“None of us could offer this without them,” he said.
Ash said bringing telehealth to the school is also a benefit to the students who won’t have to miss instructional time to treat some illnesses. That doesn’t mean families should send students to school when they are knowingly sick though.
“This gives students an opportunity to seen by a provider and the medicine they may need called in a little faster,” said Ash, pink eye, ear infections and skin irritations can also be checked out via the telehelth technology. “Parents with students in second through fifth grade will be receiving paperwork soon.”
Ligenfelter said Loogootee elementary families will be receiving their paperwork soon as well.
“We are working on our permission slips and other paperwork right now. We will be sending that information out in our elementary newsletter,” she said. “We have everything ready to go as far as equipment. Now we just need to get that info out to our families. It’s a great service to our families. Even if a student has to be sent home because they have strep or pink eye, they can at least already be seen by a provider and medicine can be waiting for them at the pharmacy. There’s no waiting to get into the doctor or driving to Washington or Bloomington for an appointment.”
It’s those provider shortages in rural areas paired with transportation issues and poverty in many areas that make partnerships like this so meaningful to the Indiana Rural Health Association.
“Through this innovative approach of incorporating telehealth into the school setting, we are confident children will receive quality healthcare that is more accessible to them than it ever has been before. Parents won’t have to take time off work, struggle with getting an appointment with their doctor or worry about transportation issues. They can now receive help in getting their children healthier, instead of the limitations they may face with seeking primary care during the school day,” said Don Kelso, IRHA executive director.
In most cases, providers will be able to see students within just a matter of minutes thanks to the advanced technology. The provider can then directly send any follow-up information to the student’s primary care physician. Prescriptions are sent to local pharmacies.
While Thursday was a day of celebrating the opening of the clinics, it was a day of training for the school nurses and Daviess Community Hospital staff.
“The three school nurses and our team at Daviess Community all went through the planning and training together which has produced a strong team focused on great results,” said Cara Veale, vice president of provider services for the hospital. “The ability to work and connect together produced a great environment in which to launch these new services.”
Lingenfelter said part of that training included learning how to do swabs to test students for type A and type B flu as well as strep throat.
“I think this is going to be really useful especially since we are just starting to get into flu season,” said Lingenfelter. “The timing is perfect.”