Board of Education votes to help provide telehealth services to Mississippi students

Published 12:35 pm Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The State Board of Education (SBE) voted on Thursday to approve a $17.6 million grant to the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) to create a telehealth delivery system within K-12 schools to provide remote healthcare and healthcare provider access to students.

MDE expects UMMC to deliver on-demand urgent care and telebehaviorial health during school hours. UMMC services to students will include urgent care, mental health, remote patient monitoring and specialty consultation healthcare.

The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) is using American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III funds to cover the grant. The grant period is from July 1, 2022 through Sept. 30 2024, with a liquidation period ending Dec. 31, 2024.

State Senator Nicole Boyd, an advocate for the expansion of telemedicine in Mississippi, said she was elated about this opportunity to bring telemedicine directly to the schools.

“I’m excited to see the impact it could make on school districts, the students and the teachers that they serve,” said Boyd. “I think it is a tremendous opportunity to make sure that people have access to telemedicine.”

MDE’s goals for the telehealth services program are to provide telehealth equipment to schools with existing school nurses, improve overall healthcare outcomes for students by increasing access to healthcare providers and expand healthcare offering beyond diagnosis and treatment which would include maintenance, prevention and health education. 

School personnel, students and families would be be on the receiving end of this knowledge.

“Healthy students learn better. Implementing this telehealth program for Mississippi’s K-12 students will better ensure health issues are identified and treated,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “This program can potentially reduce absenteeism, help parents and guardians get quicker access to services for a child and even save lives.”

According to Boyd, one of the few positive consequences of the pandemic has been the expanded use and effectiveness in many different areas in a rural state like Mississippi. Previous to the SBE’s decision, the Republican senator was working hard to make telemedicine a more accessible option for Mississippians.

Boyd principally authored Senate Bill 2738, a piece of legislation that would revise the definition of telemedicine which would require health insurance plans to provide coverage for telemedicine services. Health insurance and employee benefit plans would also have to reimburse providers for telemedicine services using the proper medical codes. The bill has been transmitted to the House of Representatives. 

“This expansion of telemedicine creates excellent healthcare opportunities and opportunities for economic expansion where we previously had a lack of growth in part because of healthcare,” Boyd said. “Now we see that we can fill these gaps and I am a tremendous proponent of what telemedicine brings to our state.”

UMMC’s Center for Telehealth, which has more than 200 sites in 73 of Mississippi’s 82 counties, currently implements a comprehensive telehealth program in various settings that address the healthcare needs of Mississippians and others. 

UMMC plans to leverage the resources of its Center for Telehealth to create a telehealth delivery infrastructure for all eligible schools in Mississippi. This includes need assessment of individual school districts/schools and delivery, setup, maintenance and training of all nursing staff on the required telehealth equipment and clinical workflows for the delivery of telehealth services.

The medical center also seeks to engage stakeholders at all levels to include MDE leadership, school district administration, parents, school nurses, teachers and other staff, local providers and community resources to identify common goals and key performance metrics to measure the success of the program for each individual community.

Telehealth delivery services will be operated and implemented in the following key areas: remote urgent care, remote behavioral health, promotion of dental health via education of school nurses by providers from the UMMC School of Dentistry, and lifestyle coaching of students at risk for developing diabetes.

Additionally, UMMC plans to undertake continuous quality improvement that will include ongoing evaluation of the program in terms of quality outcomes and monitoring process measures such as use and student enrollment.

Mississippi is well primed to take on the telemedicine front of healthcare, according to Boyd. In 2017, UMMC was one of two federally designated Centers of Excellence for Telehealth and has made significant strides in telemedicine research.

“Our state has kind of been a pioneer in this arena and I am glad to see that we are expanding the use of it even further now into our schools,” Boyd said.

UMMC plans to begin project implementation on Mar. 1, 2022. Clinical implementation will begin July 1 in four school districts and will be completed in all districts by July 1, 2023.