(T-G Photo by Tracy Simmons)
In July and December 2011, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded a combined $109 million in competitive federal grants to school-based health centers (SBHCs) to 323 programs across the country.
On May 9, 2012 Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, announced the next (and final) round of construction and equipment grants for school-based health centers: $75 million to be awarded to approximately 150 sponsors.
The SBHC grant is awarding up to $500,000 in funding, which could be used to purchase video equipment, created especially for medical use and rated as a Class 1 medical device.
Once acquired for use in the schools, the equipment could additionally be used to provide services to instructional staff as well as other county employees.
Notice of intent to apply for this year's funds must be made by Tuesday. The second part of the application process must be completed and submitted by July 24.
Primarily, the local grant request will be for the provision of computers, high-definition monitors and HD video cameras to allow communication between local nursing staff and local physicians who elect to join the program.
A SBHC is often operated as a partnership between the school and a community health organization, such as a community health center, hospital, or local health department that serves as the sponsoring facility.
In general, services provided by the SBHC are determined locally through a collaborative approach between the families and students, the community, the school district, and associated health providers.
Typically, a SBHC provides a combination of primary care, mental health care, substance abuse counseling, case management, dental health, nutrition education, health education, and health promotion. An overall emphasis is placed on the services being age-appropriate, with a particular focus on prevention and early intervention.
However, at a public meeting earlier this month, some local medical professionals had questions.
Dan Buckner, CEO of Heritage Medical Center, expressed concerns about maintaining the relationship between a patient and their doctor. "If you can engage the primary care doctors, and keep them engaged with the families that are in the schools, I see that as the magic to making this work," he said at the time.
At that meeting, Leland Dampier was among the most vocal. "This is a social problem. You are getting into a field that you have no expertise in. You need to leave that to the people that have the expertise."
A former administrator and educator, Dampier serves as president of The L. R. Dampier Cosmetic Surgery Center. Dr. Loucinda Dampier, his daughter, operates the center.
"The future of medicine is not going to be kind to you if you run the health care people you have in place here off. If they can't make a living, then you're going to run some off," Dampier said.
During the board meeting, Norris shared conversations she's had with other SHBCs in the region. Hardin County has had the system in place, and has used it to contact partnering physicians 35 times during the last year.
"Parents were thrilled," said Norris, citing anecdotally that Hardin County raised their attendance from 92 to 95 percent in the program's first year.
"It's not something that we absolutely have to have, but it is going to be something that puts a lot of technology here."
The school system serves 14 schools and staffs three registered nurses and seven licensed practical nurses. The video conference equipment could link to a nurse practitioner who could electronically view blood pressure, and use an electronic stethoscope and otoscope to provide an examination, and would be able to provide a prescription for medicine.
The HRSA does not require a matching contribution from awarded agencies.
A committee will be formed next week to begin creating the structure of the grant request. The board will consider the committee's findings and make approval for the final grant application during the July 19 meeting.
"Certainly, we want every opportunity for our local doctors to participate," said Barry Cooper, board chairman.
Buckner and Dr. Joseph Rupard, chief of staff at the hospital, were in attendance at the meeting, but did not address the board.