WACO, Texas (KXAN) — The nurse’s office at Midway Middle School has been busy over the last several months.
When the campus opened last August, the district had already implemented a number of changes because of the pandemic.
“We put in a Dutch door, that way students can’t just come into the office to be evaluated. They have to stand by the door – that way we can prevent them from potentially coming in contact with anyone who could be contagious,” said Melissa Compton who is the school nurse at the campus.
Another change for the school has been the use of telehealth visits for students and faculty. Compton now has an iPad that connects her to a provider across the state.
The virtual doctor or nurse practitioner can evaluate, diagnose and treat the student within minutes.
They can also order a strep, flu or COVID-19 test, which Compton can do right there at the nurse’s office. She’s also able to take students’ vitals including temperature, blood pressure and weight.
Compton explained that students can be treated for illnesses such as minor colds, the flu, sore throat, headaches, allergies and GI issues.
“It allows me to talk to a parent and tell them this is what we have available. This is what we can do for you verses come pick up your student take them to the doctor, and that’s always been the most frustrating thing,” said Compton. “We are their health care providers, but we are limited and by having virtual help in our school we can open up and do more for our students.”
Lack of access to healthcare
Compton’s school district is among 45 across the state that have implemented the SchoolMed Virtual Care for Families program.
Urgent Care for Kids which has clinics across the state launched it three years ago after discovering a need.
“It’s an Austin based organization that was born with a purpose to increase access to health care for kids, and to reimagine the way health services can be delivered to them in a school setting, in a place where they are about 175 days a year,” said Kevin Pearce, President and co-founder, Virtual Care for Families.
Pearce explained that they provide district partners with the iPad and software.
His team also stocks the nurse’s office with the tests and even over-the-counter medications for fever or allergies in case the student needs it right away.
Virtual doctors can also put in an order for prescriptions even before the student leaves campus.
“We have a lot of children that present to a nurse’s office that we’re not quite sure if they need to be sent home or they can go back to class,” said Pearce. “So, with the connectivity of a physician and the school nurse – in partnership we can identify that – and put them on the right path whether that is to go back to class, because they are feeling ok or whether it is to go ahead and get them treatment.”
He said that this type of care helps limit contagious illnesses and saves up to a day and a half of attendance for that student since they’re getting treated right away.
The program is free for districts and the cost for students and faculty is covered by insurance or Medicaid.
Bilingual providers are also available and the service can be used even after school hours.
“We serve a great role and that continuity of care including being the access point to care for many families who you know may not have a primary care provider,” said Tracy Spinner, Executive Director, SchoolMed for Virtual Care for Families.
“One of the great benefits of our program is not only are we on demand for school nurses, you know when they need us, but we’re able to be accessible at every campus across a school district which really translates into equality and equity of care,” she said.
Mental health need
The program is expanding and will soon allow school nurses to connect with mental health providers virtually.
“One of the hurdles we had was we didn’t immediately have access to the mental health side,” said Pearce. “We’ve now added that to the platform. Early on it was a hurdle because there are a number of situations where something may present as a physical problem, but it’s really more of a mental health issue.”
Another addition will include bringing providers to each campus to conduct physicals for students participating in sports.
On demand game changer
Compton biggest challenge at first was on the technology side of it all and making sure the district’s network security system allowed the virtual calls without any problems.
She’s been working with her technology department on any issues that come up and said they’re usually solved within minutes.
Compton, who has been a school nurse for 12 years and has worked at four districts, said this is the future of school nursing.
“We’ve been able to get kids back on campus faster, because if I can get you tested and know that you’re positive for COVID – I can isolate you. I can prevent you from coming in contact with other students. That decreases the amount of students I have to quarantine and that’s a big deal for us. We want our students here. We want them safe,” she said.
Compton explained that beyond her 1,300 students, her campus has 60 staff members who can also utilize the telehealth services.
She said it’s what’s helping keep her school open.
“For them to be able to come in, only maybe miss one class period, and then find out I tested negative on everything – continue their day – well that continues our process of education,” explained Compton.