LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette General Foundation raised about $250,000 this year to fund technology initiatives designed to address health care needs of students who fall ill at school.
The foundation helped fund technology to set up a telemedicine clinic at Ossun Elementary to enable students with common sick-at-school conditions to see a doctor at the school-based health center 5 miles away at Carencro Middle School.
The telemedicine clinic opened in September, and the plan is to help the school system open two more telemedicine clinics at schools in the parish in the next year.
The school system hasn’t determined the locations of the new telemedicine sites, said Bradley Cruice, the school system’s health and wellness director.
The telemedicine clinic project benefits the school system but also alleviates a burden on the local health care system, said Geoff Daily, the foundation’s director.
“Part of where health care is going is to be less reactive and more proactive,” he said. “When you look at some of our most vulnerable populations, low-income children are right there on the top.”
With fewer doctors accepting Medicaid and the obstacles of single-parent families who may have transportation or work conflicts that prevent them from seeking care for minor health conditions, “you end up in situations where small issues become big issues,” Daily said.
When children don’t get treatment for minor health issues, it can have an impact on their performance at school and could lead to unnecessary emergency room visits, he said.
“We looked at how can we change that equation? How do we get ourselves in a position?” Daily said.
The partnership with the school system to expand health services remotely provided a potential solution, he said.
Daily said it costs between $10,000 and $20,000 for the technology — equipment and infrastructure to set up the telemedicine clinic. With Bluetooth-enabled medical tools held and operated by a nurse at the school, a doctor at another site can remotely check a student’s heartbeat, ears, nose and throat.
Videoconferencing also enables the doctor to talk with the young patient.
Lafayette General plans to offer the same type of virtual exam for premature babies in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit as a way to remotely connect families in Lafayette to specialists in New Orleans or other cities, Daily said.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.