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Center for Telehealth, School of Nursing team up for school-based telehealth training



ummc nurses
Pearl school nurses, standing, from left, Brandi Chambers, Kelley Smith, Weems, Thornton and Melissa Roberts watch as UMMC School of Nursing educators D'Antonio and Shanda Walenta, seated, right, go over telehealth technology. (UMMC)
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By Annie Oeth – UMMC

Health care access will be a click away for a growing number of students, thanks to a $17.6 million grant from the Mississippi Department of Education and care through the School of Nursing and Center for Telehealth at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The grant is creating a telehealth delivery system within kindergarten through 12th grade schools to make care ranging from urgent care to behavioral health care available to students during school hours. The funding is provided through the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief III.

To prepare for the new school year, UMMC nurse educators Shanda Walenta and Jolie D’Antonio were teaching Pearl School District nurses on the technology July 28.

“Jolie and I are thrilled to come on board as nurse educators for this program,” Walenta said. “For the previous eight years, I was a school nurse myself, so I fully understand how this program is going to benefit our state. Training the nurses in our state to use the equipment is going well. Every nurse we have trained so far has been excited and cannot wait to add telehealth to their practice in the school clinic setting.”

D’Antonio agreed, saying she enjoys the training process. “I have loved making new connections with the school nurses in our state. They play a valuable role in caring for our children and are eager to use this equipment this school year.”

“Mississippi’s public schools are dedicated to serving the whole child. Providing telehealth services in schools will further help our educators support child health and well-being,” said Dr. Kim Benton, state superintendent of education, interim. “When a child’s basic health care needs are met, they have a better chance to succeed academically.”

“We’re excited about what this program will bring not only to our students but also their parents and the community at large,” said Julie Thornton, the district’s head nurse and Pearl High’s school nurse. “Students will be able to get care, and it will help parents, who may have problems getting away from work or getting to a doctor’s office quickly. Having telehealth will result in students missing fewer classes, less time away from work for parents, and less time away from the classroom for teachers whose children go to Pearl schools.”

The video visits with UMMC health care providers are free of charge for families in enrolled school districts. Parents must consent for the school telehealth visits, and they can join in the visits in person or from their computer, tablet or smartphone.

After a telehealth visit, a summary of the visit will be emailed to parents. With parental consent, a summary will also be emailed to the student’s primary care provider.

The grant, in its first phase, includes Pearl, McComb, Quitman and Yazoo County school districts. Nurses in the Phase I schools have been trained and are ready to “go live” Aug. 2.

The second phase of the grant will bring UMMC telehealth services to 30 more school districts in the state including Madison County and Rankin County school districts and Jackson Public Schools by Nov. 1. At that point, UMMC telehealth services will be in 235 schools.

The goals of the grant are “far-reaching and visionary” said Dr. Saurabh Chandra, UMMC’s chief telehealth officer. “This has the potential to not only improve the health outcomes in the school-going population, but it is an investment in the future of Mississippi by helping create a healthy and educated workforce.”

For students in rural areas of the state, telehealth will be an easy access to providers.

“Telehealth has provided means to increase access and delivery of care, especially in the rural and underserved communities,” he said.

UMMC’s Center for Telehealth, which has more than 200 sites in 73 of Mississippi’s 82 counties, currently implements a comprehensive telehealth program in various settings that address health care needs of Mississippians and others.

“The Center for Telehealth at UMMC has a long history of implementing innovative telehealth programs throughout the state, including schools,” Chandra said, “and we share the vision of the Department of Education to enhance access to health care in schools for every K-12 student in our state.”

At Pearl High, school nurses tried out the technology including a digital stethoscope and otoscope that allow nurse practitioners and other health care providers at UMMC’s Center for Telehealth to listen to heartbeats and see patients’ inner ears and throats in real time, just as in an in-person visit.

Medical care for colds and flu, strep throat, bronchitis, allergies, asthma, headaches, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal problems, fever, insect bites, urinary tract infections and more is available through the video visits.

Mental health services for depression, anxiety, behavioral difficulties and other conditions will also be available through the UMMC Center for Telehealth.

“This program will be great for our students and their families, and it will continue to evolve,” Thornton said. “It’s only getting better from here.”

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