In the spring of 2022, an innovative project around school-based telehealth began in North Central Washington. Thriving Together North Central Washington (formerly known as North Central Accountable Community of Health or NCACH) allocated funds to launch community-focused virtual care services, with an emphasis on school-based telehealth, across Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties. The driving force behind this initiative was to enhance access to healthcare and services for students, parents, and school employees.
Gaining Momentum Through Collaboration
Thriving Together NCW engaged Ingenium Digital Health Advisors, a boutique consulting firm, to design and implement a regional plan. This plan focused on enhancing the accessibility and effectiveness of virtual care for students, parents, and school employees by collaborating with clinical partners.
North Central Educational Services District (NCESD) was enlisted as a project partner because of its collaborative relationship with the schools across the same four-county service area. NCESD supports schools in all areas of K-12 education including educational, administrative, technology, and physical and behavioral health. Collaboration with school superintendents, principals, counselors, school nurses, and staff was critical for project success.
NCESD has provided expert guidance throughout the project via its leadership team, School Nurse Corps, and Network Services. Serving as the NCESD liaison for the project, Cathy Meuret, School Nurse Corps Director, has leaned on her experience in school health and public health environments and her positive working relationships with the school districts to foster the initiative across the region.
The School-Based Telehealth Experience
Five school districts—Manson, Orondo, Soap Lake, Waterville, and Wilson Creek— were identified as lead-off sites. Selection was based on the interest and support from school district boards, administrative teams, health support staff, and existing school district-provider relationships and services. By September 30, 2023, the first telehealth sessions were conducted in Manson, Orondo, Soap Lake, and Wilson Creek; and Waterville following suit in early October. Initial efforts primarily focused on behavioral health and substance use disorder student supports, in collaboration with counseling services through organizations like Catholic Charities, Renew, and The Center for Alcohol & Drug Treatment.
Telehealth Access Point (TAP) private room at Wilson Creek School District.
Each participating district received equipment to create a Telehealth Access Point (TAP) in a private space within the school, helping to ensure confidentiality during telehealth sessions. Each TAP includes a computer, monitor, high-definition web camera, speakers, and a headset. The TAP, property of the district, is not restricted to a specific clinical provider, making it available to multiple agencies. A school contact manages the schedule, verifying appointments, and arranging for students to be excused from class. The connection is established, and privacy is ensured during the telehealth session, with students returning to class afterward.
Impact on Students, Parents, and School Staff
The impact of telehealth access in schools is far-reaching. Students can remain in school, reducing time away from the classroom, while parents can stay at work, minimizing the need for time off to transport their child to a provider’s office. Telehealth serves as a valuable supplement to face-to-face provider services, offering an alternative option when in-person visits are not feasible due to driving conditions or schedule conflicts. Additionally, it provides adjunct student support for school counselors and nurses, enhancing overall student well-being.
The initiative’s success is a testament to the power of collaboration and innovation in addressing healthcare gaps in the education system. By leveraging technology and partnerships, this program is not only improving health outcomes but also fostering a culture of well-being within the education system.
Those interested in similar initiatives can connect with Christian Milaster, CEO of Ingenium, for further insights and information at firstname.lastname@example.org.