The Broadband Telehealth Pilot Project at Switzerland of Ohio School District in rural Monroe County is fully operational after partnering with InnovateOhio, BroadbandOhio, the Ohio Department of Education, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and the Ohio Department of Medicaid last year. K-12 students will now have access to mental health counselors in real time. Previously, counselors had a commute of up to 60 minutes to reach children in need.
By connecting schools with mental health providers through telehealth, the project takes another step in the state’s efforts to expand and enhance high-speed internet access to unserved and underserved Ohioans.
Switzerland of Ohio’s school system currently contracts with two mental health counselors to offer in-person services to students. However, the district has over 2,000 students in 8 buildings across 536 square miles, and poor cell phone coverage makes it difficult to reach counselors while they are traveling. By enabling telehealth solutions, this lost time can be recovered and allow mental health services when they are needed – precisely at the moment a student has a mental health crisis.
In March 2020, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Lt. Governor Husted announced the Telehealth Pilot Project, which would allow in-demand counseling for students by creating spaces within the school compliant with federal regulations and capable of live video and audio feed to meet this need in a virtualized manner.
Launch of Phase 2
The Lt. Governor also announced the launch of the second phase of the project, which will work to connect the school’s existing fiber-optic network directly to remote offices of mental health professionals, so students can have access to care and additional services, beyond the two counselors who physically work in the schools. The first such connection is with pilot project partner, Southeast Healthcare Facilities.
The school district was also able to leverage additional dollars through the Appalachian Regional Commission to receive a $500,000 grant that will extend broadband into the community, as a last mile connection point. Currently, over 70 percent of the community in Monroe County is completely unserved.
Telehealth Blueprint 2.0 Now Available for Ohio Schools
InnovateOhio, in partnership with BroadbandOhio, also developed a “Telehealth in Schools Blueprint” to support other schools around the state in their efforts to duplicate this project and implement telehealth opportunities for their students. As phase one of the project comes to a close, version 2.0 of the blueprint has now been released, outlining “lessons learned” throughout the creation of the program, and important details schools should consider. The new blueprint features recommendations on what the telehealth rooms should look like, such as paint color, lighting, and safety features, along with necessary staffing and equipment considerations.