Every school across the Midwest has teachers, students and classrooms. They also all have some kids who might be sick, need help with chronic conditions like asthma or diabetes or get injured during recess or gym.

But not every school has a nurse, and that can mean teachers and staff end up doing their best to aid those kids who need the help of a health professional. More than 40 schools in the Dakotas used a telehealth system, Avera eCARE® School Health, to get those students the help they need.

“Our service is there, every day of school, to let teachers teach and office staff and others focus on their work. We can help the kids who bump their head or have an earache,” said Sheila Freed, RN, director, Avera eCARE School Health. “Students are priority, but we educate moms and dads, principals and superintendents and secretaries and others at schools, too. We teach, train and assess students who need us.”

Freed estimated the 40 schools served by eCARE School Health accounted for nearly 4,000 virtual visits over the last year. Schools that enroll in the service have no limit in the number of visits – “as many kids as need it” is the rule.

COVID-19 Considerations

During the pandemic, School Health teams worked closely with their growing network of schools. About a half-dozen schools have added the eCARE service to their facilities since the pandemic began. That includes a school in Iowa, making it the third state to use the inventive tools for better community health.

“We focus on our role as health professionals and let the educational professionals focus on their role. To do that, we need to provide pragmatic information: what do we need to do and how do we do it?” she said. “We’ve helped a number of schools evaluate the way they set things up and prepared classrooms with ‘ready kits’ that have masks, sanitizer and other important tools to make the start of the school year as effective as possible.”

The many protocols and guidance documents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies have produced, and updated, throughout the pandemic response are top-of-mind for the eCARE team.

“We partner with the CDC, Indian Health Service and state health agencies as well, so that education professionals have a single source on the most recent information,” Freed said.

A Growing Network

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Avera eCARE School Health professionals in Sioux Falls met with principals and office staff regularly.

“Our eCARE nurses are the first person the school team will talk to on the video conversation, and they all are experienced RNs with years of practice in pediatrics and school health, as well as knowledge on treatment of injuries and maintenance for chronic conditions,” Freed said. “The nurse can enlist the help of others at the hub when needed, including social workers, behavioral health therapists or other collaborators as the situation dictates.”

While an on-site health professional is the “gold standard” it’s not always possible. Telehealth can fill the gaps.

“We’re partners in the goal of getting kids to class, and keeping them there, with their health the focus of all we do,” Freed said. “We have administrators, principals and teachers, along with their parents, who thank us for what we do. In some cases, they might not know where to begin.”