Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced a broadband project that will connect nearly 20,000 students in six rural Appalachian Ohio counties to telehealth services. A $1.15 million appropriation from InnovateOhio, which Husted directs, will fund the project.
“The bottom line — this will allow students to have a direct line to healthcare experts in real time, when they need it,” Husted said in the May 26 announcement, at Zanesville High School, in Muskingum County.
The project, an expansion initiative of BroadbandOhio, the state office created to implement the state’s broadband strategy, will cover 15 school districts in Coshocton, Morgan, Muskingum, Perry, Noble and Tuscarawas counties.
The funding will also give four school districts remote access to pediatricians and other providers for support for students with chronic conditions or acute illness.
“Research estimates one in five students experience mental health struggles during their school years, but more than 60% of these students will not receive the help they need. Access to care is a hurdle in our region, and the use of teletherapy and telemedicine carts in a school-based setting can help remove those barriers for our students and their families,” said Lori Snyder-Lowe, superintendent of the Muskingum Valley Educational Service Center, in the announcement.
This project follows a pilot telehealth project in the Switzerland of Ohio Local School District, in Monroe County, that launched in 2020.
That district spans 536 square miles, with eight buildings and more than 2,000 students. The district works with two mental health counselors, but with long commutes between some of the buildings, and limited cell phone service in the area, it was often difficult for students in crisis to get immediate help.
“You may want to make a case that there’s harder districts to serve than that, but you’d have a hard time making that case. It’s pretty rural. It’s got a lot of topography issues; it’s got a lot of challenges — so we picked them,” Husted said. The idea was that if a telehealth project could work there, it could work anywhere in Ohio.
The first phase of that project, which involved setting up and connecting telehealth spaces in schools so students can talk to counselors remotely, wrapped up in February. The second phase will involve connecting the district’s network to remote mental health professional offices, so students will have access to care beyond the two counselors who work in the district.
That project provided the blueprint for schools around Ohio to develop their own telehealth projects.
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