The St. Martin Parish School Board has just launched its first telemedicine clinic, called Telehealth for Tots, to provide easier medical access for students at rural locations via telecommunications. The school system’s pilot site is located at Stephensville Elementary School in the more remote region of lower St. Martin Parish and connects students to a school-based clinic.
Despite its proximity to both Morgan City and the St. Mary Parish line, Stephensville Elementary is St. Martin Parish’s farthest outlying school, which makes it difficult to utilize the St. Martin Parish School-Based Health Centers — the staffed medical clinics installed at three main school campuses across the parish. The SBHCs serve 17 schools via physical transportation by mini-bus, but being in a remote part of the parish makes traveling to these centers a difficult obstacle, especially schools like Stephensville Elementary where traveling by bus to the closest SBHC takes more than an hour.
“Normally, we would drive out there twice a month to try to provide services to the students,” says Adrienne Huval, the coordinator of the St. Martin Parish School- Based Health Centers and School Nurse Program. “It takes about an hour and a half to get there, so going twice a month just wasn’t consistent enough, especially if you saw a sick child and you needed to follow up; it just wasn’t practical.”
Such long distances burden both parents and the school with transportation logistics and deprive the student of lost time in the classroom, usually in the form of mounting absenteeism.
But by utilizing telecommunicationsenabled medical equipment, telemedicine lets students receive a medical assessment and evaluation through an audio and visual link with the SBHC at St. Martinville Primary. And once examined, a student can be sent back to class or be instructed for further measures if necessary.
The Telehealth for Tots clinics are funded by a United Way of Acadiana PACT (Plan of Action for Community Transformation) grant as well as Lafayette General Health and Capitol One and provide students access to medical care without having to leave school, thereby eliminating the need for physical transport at no extra cost to students and their families.
Huval says that the funding from these grants was used to acquire the equipment and even hire a part-time nurse to work at Stephensville Elementary.
“She comes three times a week, and she sees kids who are sick for minor illnesses and injuries and things a child would maybe check out of school for,” Huval says. “She’ll determine if they need a higher level of care and if so, she will hook up the telemedicine equipment and they’ll call St. Martinville where we have a school-based health center and a fulltime nurse practitioner who can diagnose and write prescriptions.”
Huval says several students have already been effectively diagnosed since the program launched in December.
“The very first child they brought in had a skin condition that was diagnosed, and they were able to prescribe medication from a pharmacy down in Stephensville. The child didn’t have to leave school to go to their doctor,” says Huval. “And it doesn’t cost our families anything, because it’s all grant money and donations that we’ve used.”
The telemedicine program originally got its start in Lafayette Parish schools by linking all of the public schools in the Carencro area to the school-based clinic at Carencro Middle School. The three school-based health centers in upper St. Martin Parish have served students for many years, making significant progress in easing the fears of excessive absences due to illnesses.
“It’s a pilot site, and it’s really what I wanted for this school because the absentee rate is actually very high for a school with only 140 students comparable to some of our schools with 500-600 students,” explains Huval. “We’re already starting to see a decrease in absenteeism at Stephensville. We’re hoping that we can eventually see an increase in test scores and better grades, because that’s all linked to absenteeism. A student is not going to do as well if they are not at school, and they certainly won’t do as well if they are sick.”