The Elwood Community School Corporation will be home to a first of its kind program designed to boost the quality and availability of healthcare in rural Indiana schools. Delivering quality in-school healthcare is the focus of the newly established Indiana Rural School Clinic Network (IRSCN), which is expected to create new telehealth best practices for rural school healthcare in the Hoosier state.
The new partnership between the Indiana Rural Health Association (IRHA), St.Vincent Mercy, Managed Health Services (MHS), ECSC and Aspire Indiana will jointly create the first school-based telehealth clinic in Elwood. The official ribbon cutting for the telehealth clinic will take place on September 6 at the Elwood Intermediate School. The telehealth clinic gives students the opportunity to be seen by a licensed healthcare provider without leaving school. This will help reduce the amount of time spent out of the classroom, resulting in better school outcomes.
According to ECSC Superintendent Dr. Chris Daughtry, Dr. Robert Zentz will be the main licensed healthcare provider for ECSC’s telehealth clinic. Dr. Zentz is affiliated with St. Vincent Medical Group and is a skilled pediatrician with more than 20 years of experience. He received his medical degree from Indiana University School of Medicine and completed his pediatric residency with Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. The telehealth clinic offers the opportunity to link parents and physicians for in-school healthcare delivery for rural students, a first for the state. The Elwood clinic represents the pilot program for IRSCN.
The following is an outline of how the program will work. Children who feel ill at school visit the school nurse. If the determination is made that the student needs to see a doctor, a virtual visit can be set up on-site and parents are contacted to see if they wish to join in. The school nurse will then serve as the doctor’s “hands” during the visit, operating the various pieces of diagnostic equipment for the children. The readings will be collected, then analyzed by the doctor without the need to leave school grounds. During the telehealth clinic visit, a student can be screened, examined, diagnosed, treated and monitored. Special equipment gives Dr. Zentz, the medical provider, the ability to examine the student’s ears, eyes, nose, throat, lungs and skin. Assisted by the school nurse, a student can be seen for the following concerns: cuts/abrasions, rashes, pink eye, coughs/colds, strep throat, earaches, and flu-like symptoms. The telehealth clinic will also provide limited laboratory testing.
Aspire Indiana will also provide behavioral health services where a child can receive counseling services via the telehealth clinic in a separate, private room. In addition to the Elwood pilot program, the school-based telehealth clinic network will expand into six different school systems, including Parke, Vermillion, and Southwest Jefferson County schools, along with Austin and Crothersville. Each of the participating schools will have an element of telehealth incorporated into their program, as well as training through IRSCN. All services provided at the telehealth clinic will be billed to the insurance provider just as if the student had been seen at the doctor’s office. All prescriptions will be sent to the pharmacy for parents to pick up. If the student does not have insurance, services will be provided on a sliding scale fee based on income. No student will be denied services because of the inability to pay.
Rural residents and low-income families face difficulties accessing quality healthcare, including barriers, such as transportation and time off work for working parents. ECSC’s pilot site will focus on serving Elwood Intermediate School through Elwood Junior-Senior High School (grades third through 12th). Areas of need are identified through a needs assessment and by reviewing schools that have 50 percent or more of their student population receiving free or reduced lunch.
According to Dr. Daughtry, ECSC’s telehealth will be based in the intermediate school building. He said eventually they would like to offer the services at Elwood Elementary School. “I think it’s a great opportunity, and it’s something good for our students and their parents. Knowing that we can be a model school for future growth of telehealth is an honor. It’s something to be proud of,” stated Dr. Daughtry. Dr. Daughtry went on to say, “This program is a good example of five different entities and a lot of community members coming together to do something for our children and families. I am excited about this opportunity.”
According to Kevin O’Toole, MHS president and CEO, the telehealth clinic is part of MHS’s Adopt-a- School program. He said this allows MHS to collaborate with schools on initiatives and programs focused on overall health literacy and awareness. O’Toole said along with the IRHA, the MHS school-based health division targeted ECSC for its rural location and limited access to healthcare options. He expects the telehealth clinic to go very well and anticipates continuing to grow the program throughout Indiana. “This first of its kind, school-based telehealth clinic will help improve access to care issues for Elwood students and help combat chronic absenteeism. Healthier kids makes better students,” stated O’Toole. O’Toole went on to say, “MHS believes in meeting our members where they are. Education is empowering; and if we can provide education to people, they can make better, healthier choices.”
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