ST. MARTINVILLE — Until last month, 62 miles and about an hour of driving time separated St. Martin Parish school system students at Stephensville Elementary from the same school-based health services that the parish’s other schoolchildren receive.
That distance is now bridged by technology that provides the school access to a nurse practitioner and doctor. The service is part of the Telehealth for Tots clinic initiative housed at the school system’s health center in St. Martinville.
The clinic held its grand opening Friday to celebrate the services available to students at the remote school and the community partners who made it possible. The clinic opened with grant support from the United Way of Acadiana and Lafayette General Health Foundation with additional donations from Capital One and Cox Communications to help fill funding gaps.
The St. Martin Parish school system provides health services at three school-based health centers placed in its major school zones — Breaux Bridge, Cecilia and St. Martinville. Bus transportation is provided to students to their nearest school-based health center. The centers are designed to keep students healthy and to get them back to class faster for minor ailments that may otherwise have required their parents to check them out for a quick doctor visit or to take medication.
Stephensville Elementary Principal Bryan Staton said the new access to the health services already is making a difference. He said attendance has improved in the past month because students have a school nurse on campus and access to the St. Martinville school-based health center nurse practitioner at least three days a week.
“They’re staying at school instead of going home, and that’s the goal,” Staton said. “We have 133 students, and last year, we had 800 absences in a school year. This was a critical need. We’ve curtailed bellyaches and other things.”
The sites are connected through technology — Web cameras and Bluetooth-enabled medical equipment that allows staff in St. Martinville to “see” a student-patient. On Friday, registered nurse Kathy LaBouve and her volunteer, Amber Miller, a student at Nicholls State University, demonstrated a typical visit with Christy Crovetto, the nurse practitioner at the St. Martinville school-based health center. LaBouve placed an otoscope into Miller’s ear with the camera showing a crisp image of the canal.
“Amber’s ears are good,” Crovetto said.
LaBouve then used another piece of equipment to send Crovetto an image of one of Miller’s moles. The image transmits onto the flat-screen monitor with hash marks that enable Crovetto to note the size of the mark.
“We can look at skin, which is helpful because the first child we saw had impetigo,” Crovetto said.
Lafayette General has helped set up a similar telemedicine program for the Lafayette Parish school system for Carencro-area schools. St. Martin Parish’s school-based health supervisor, Adrienne Huval, learned of the Lafayette program and, about a year ago at a United Way event, cornered the man she knew could help make it happen — Cian Robinson, Lafayette General Health Foundation’s director. The partnership will help reach students in a rural area who now have access to health care, Robinson said.
The process to set up the network infrastructure for the telemedicine program between St. Martinville and Stephensville was simplified because both the school system and St. Martin Hospital, a Lafayette General affiliate, were Cox Communications customers.
“That existing interconnectivity made it seamless for us,” Robinson said.
The partnership and new service to Stephensville is a “wonderful opportunity for the students there,” said St. Martin Parish schools Superintendent Lottie Beebe. “We know that attendance is important to student success.”
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.