Telehealth services coming to six Manatee County schools

Program accessible to 3,800 students

Herald Tribune | by Louis Llovio | September 23, 2020

Manatee County schools will roll out a telehealth program at six local schools beginning early next month, giving thousands of students access to health care services. 

The program is expected to be up and running by the week of October 5th after the School Board approved an agreement with MCR Health on Tuesday night to begin offering the telehealth services. 

All six schools — Bayshore Elementary, Blackburn Elementary, Oneco Elementary, Prine Elementary, Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary and Lee Middle — are Title 1, meaning they have a large percentage of children eligible for free or reduced lunch. 

In all, about 3,800 students will have access to the telehealth services, but it is unknown how many will participate.

Cynthia Saunders, the School District of Manatee County’s superintendent, said Tuesday that the program is aimed at students who don’t currently have a medical provider.

If successful at the first six schools, the program could eventually spread to all the county’s schools, except charter schools.  

“We would only start there to ensure that we have all of the bugs, and everything, worked out before we expand it,” Saunders said. 

The six schools will begin reaching out to parents and guardians with information about the program in the next couple of weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that access to telehealth services not only improves a child’s health, it increases the time a student spends learning, improves grade-point average and cuts suspension rates. 

With the School Board’s approval in place, MCR and the district will soon begin outfitting clinics at the six schools with cameras, examination scopes, telephonic stethoscopes and the equipment necessary to test for strep throat and the flu. 

When everything is in place, school nurses, using the equipment provided to them, will be able to test students’ eyes, ears, noses and throats as well as listen to their lungs and examine their skin. 

The tests will be done under the supervision of MCR doctors or nurse practitioners who will be able to prescribe medications and summarize the visit to a student’s parent or guardian. MCR will also schedule follow up appointments when needed. 

Nurses will also be able to give vaccinations and flu shots with parent or guardian permission. 

To make all this work, MCR “will purchase and set up two-way audio/video telehealth carts for each and every school containing diagnostic tools that are required for student evaluations at the nurse’s office,” according to the agreement. 

As for payment, MCR will bill Medicaid or insurers for services and bill the parents or guardians of uninsured students. 

Saunders told board members that no child will be treated without the approval of a parent or guardian. 

The agreement didn’t pass without some pushback from board members.

“This agreement does not offer enough protections for our students and our families,” said board member Scott Hopes. “It is a great idea. A fantastic service. I will support it every inch of the way, but I don’t want it to create problems, and this will create problems.” 

His misgivings included what happens if a family’s insurance doesn’t cover services at MCR and how the telehealth program would affect a child’s existing health care services. 

Hopes twice asked colleagues to put off a vote until the board’s Oct. 13 meeting so the issues he saw could be addressed. Twice he was rejected. 

Charlie Kennedy, the board’s vice chair, said he was fine moving forward because a clause in the agreement gives the district, or MCR, the right to stop the program after a year. 

“I feel comfortable with this because, ultimately, it is the parent’s decision,” he said. “And if you read this, MCR is doing all the work. We are just providing the nurse, space, whatever space is going to be used on campus, and the internet connection so they can reach MCR.” 

The board approved the agreement, 3-2. Board chair Gina Messenger, who shared some of Hope’s concerns, also voted against it as did Hopes.

Featured Photo: Superintendent Cynthia Saunders speaking at Sep. 22 Manatee County School Board meeting. Manatee County Schools

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