With the help of technology, ill students at Stephensville Elementary — located in a remote part of St. Martin Parish — could get better and back to class more quickly in the upcoming school year.
“We think this will help with the high absenteeism that we have there,” said Adrienne Huval, St. Martin Parish schools coordinator of school-based health centers and school nurses.
The school system currently has three school-based health centers either on or adjacent to the campuses of Breaux Bridge Junior High, Cecilia Junior High and St. Martinville Senior High, with bus transportation provided to students to and from the health centers.
The school-based health centers are designed to help students stay healthy and in school by offering services for minor illnesses, as well as mental health and, in many school districts, dental services.
But, it’s too long of a drive — more than an hour — to reach students in Stephensville, which is located in the southernmost part of the parish and is closer to Morgan City in St. Mary Parish, Huval said.
“We’ve been taking staff from our health centers and driving out there twice a month, but it hasn’t been effective,” she said.
With the support of a $55,000 grant from the United Way of Acadiana, the school system plans to launch a telemedicine program in Stephensville to connect that campus with the St. Martinville school-based health center. The program will give students in the rural location timely access to a nurse practitioner during the school day via Bluetooth-enabled medical equipment, software and Web cameras.
Of the $55,000 grant, $15,000 was raised by employees of Lafayette General Health specifically for the project, according to Cian Robinson, executive director of Lafayette General Health Foundation.
Lafayette General is a partner in the project and will help the school system implement the telemedicine services and train employees. The foundation helped support the launch and expansion of telemedicine in the Carencro area for Lafayette Parish schools.
The telemedicine program’s launch in St. Martin Parish is on hold for now as the school system tries to work out funding to hire a registered nurse for Stephensville Elementary. Huval said the United Way is working with the school system to help identify potential funding for the position.
“We’ve got $55,000 from the United Way funds that we’ve raised that will go into the telemedicine project in St. Martin Parish. That leaves us a little bit short for the funds needed for personnel,” said Margaret Trahan, president and CEO of United Way of Acadiana. “The $55,000 will cover equipment at two schools, plus it will cover some of the personnel costs.”
The partnership formed among the United Way, the school system and Lafayette General Health Foundation doesn’t end with the Stephensville telemedicine project.
Trahan said the three entities are working together to apply for a federal grant to expand telemedicine services to schools across St. Martin Parish through the rural child poverty telehealth network grant program.
Trahan credited Lafayette General’s employees for their dedication to expanding access to health services to students.
“It’s a unique collaboration between the employees of the hospital, United Way and the St. Martin Parish school system,” Trahan said of the telemedicine project.
The school system also received a separate two-year annual grant of $30,000 from the United Way to continue its transportation services from school sites to its school-based health centers.
While some school-based health centers provide transportation to students, Huval said, St. Martin Parish remains the only school district that provides districtwide transportation services.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.