Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted today announced that the first phase of 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.
“In less than a year after we announced the pilot project, we have delivered access to telehealth services to the 2,000 students and families in the largest, most rural school district in Ohio," said Lt. Governor Husted. “Because this was the most difficult test-case, it now serves as roadmap for all schools in Ohio to deliver health and counseling services to students who previously had difficulty accessing them in a timely manner and who often went unserved.”
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.
"Phase one of this project has made behavioral health more accessible to the students of Switzerland of Ohio Local School District," said Lydia Brodegard, District Project Manager & Director of Special Education at Ohio Valley Educational Service Center. "Our counselors and staff are equipped with state of the art technology to meet the needs of students in crisis and support their needs right in their school buildings. Without this, students would have greater loss of in-seat time traveling to a provider or worse, no intervention at all. We are hopeful that with phase two and the opportunities associated with the ARC grant, more families and our community will have access to broadband, the ability to access telehealth, and perhaps connect them to resources for education, workforce, and healthcare. We know in order to have a student truly succeed academically and prepare them for their future past graduation, we first need to help them achieve and maintain physical and mental health. With this project, we are equipped to do just that."
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.
The updated blueprint can be found here.