Bridging the Great Health Divide: Grant expands access to healthcare in schools, nursing homes & clinics

New technology improves access to care in rural Louisiana parishes, including Grant, LaSalle and Winn
As telehealth continues to grow, so does access to care, especially in rural Louisiana parishes with the help of new technology.
Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 6:29 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - As telehealth continues to grow, so does access to care, especially in rural Louisiana parishes with the help of new technology.

Go back in time to when you were an elementary school student sitting in class. If you felt sick, you’d probably go see the school nurse. But that’s not the case for students in some rural Central Louisiana parishes like LaSalle.

“Here on the north side of the parish, we don’t have a school-based health center,” said Hardtner Medical Center Case Management Director Aimee Paul.

Students simply would be sent home. But, an almost $2 million USDA Rural Development Grant, in partnership with the Delta Regional Authority, is changing that so students can get the care they need directly in the classroom.

“What they’ll be doing is they’ll be connecting their clinic, that’s located right by the hospital or in the surrounding areas, and be able to reach those schools to provide care to those children.”

Southern Evals CEO Taylor Cottano

New technology will connect students to physicians in what Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is calling the most ambitious project in Louisiana.

“It will be able to increase the access to care to folks who haven’t got it before,” said Cottano.

Students will be able to speak directly with a doctor through a two-way video chat.

“We can look in ears, look down throats, we’ve even got a real detailed derma camera, you can see the detail on that,” said Cottano.

A small device that’s guaranteed to be so simple a janitor can use it will be used to look at a student’s eyes, ears, throat, skin and any other ailments.

“Anything that they need to do to either diagnose or treat that child to move forward and to get them care,” said Cottano.

School staff will be trained so they know exactly how to use the equipment.

“Anyone in the school system will be able to use it. It’s very easy, there are cards that will show where to place the stethoscope,” said Hardtner Medical Center R.N. Ashley Edwards.

After speaking with the student, the physician will then be able to prescribe medication or recommend further action, keeping the student in class and the parent at work.

“They can literally hop out of class, go see that nurse practitioner or that physician that’s on that other end of the line and then get either the medication or the different things that they need.”

Southern Evals CEO Taylor Cottano

The grant is allocated to work with 40 rural health clinics, 60 schools and 30 nursing homes. That includes Cenla parishes like Grant, LaSalle and Winn.

“They’re going to pilot this at three schools: Olla Elementary, LaSalle Junior High and LaSalle High School,” said Paul.

CEO of Southern Evals Taylor Cottano says the new program will be a win-win for students, parents and medical personnel.

“That parent doesn’t have to leave work, come and pick that child up, schedule an appointment at a pediatrician, have to wait and then go pick up medications. We’re trying to achieve all of that in one smooth process,” Cottano said.

“I don’t think that telehealth is going away. I think it’s something that, in the future, we’re going to see more and more of with different disease processes or doctor’s visits or anything like that.”

Hardtner Medical Center Case Management Director Aimee Paul

Parents will also be able to dial into the call between their student and the physician at any time.

We’re told the new equipment should be ready to go by the fall.

The grant is also being used to connect physicians to people in nursing homes in some rural parishes.

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