Student Wellbeing

Florida Panhandle Schools Add Telehealth Portals

Sixty-three public schools in Florida's Panhandle are delivering mental health and other services via telehealth portals to students recovering from Hurricane Michael. Michael, which struck the Panhandle in October 2018, was the first Category 5 hurricane to hit the United States in 26 years, devastating Panama City and Mexico Beach, in particular.

Each school will have one portal in a central location. Students who get written consent from a parent and a referral from a guidance counselor will have the opportunity to speak one-on-one in private with a health service provider who will assess, diagnose and — if needed — begin offering treatment. Parents may call into the session via a mobile app or get a summary from the provider following the session.

"The installation of these telehealth services for public schools in these six Northwest Florida counties will be a valuable resource that students can turn to for their immediate mental health needs," said Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary, Mary Mayhew, in a statement.

The same portals may be used for other health services too, including checking students for ear infections and sore throats. Lab orders will be handled in each school's health clinic by a school nurse; and prescriptions will be sent electronically to the respective family's pharmacy.

The mental health angle was pushed by the state's First Lady, Casey DeSantis, who has been involved in disaster recovery efforts for state residents. She also promotes "Hope for Healing Florida," a campaign that encourages the public and private sectors to come together to address Floridians struggling with mental health and substance abuse.

The telehealth services are part of a larger state program put in place that includes $2.3 million sent to Florida's Department of Children and Families through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to increase outreach services and pay crisis counselors through 2020 and $1.25 million from the U.S. Department of Education for the school district in hard-hit Bay County to add licensed social workers and paraprofessionals to each school campus.

Earlier this year Florida state lawmakers approved legislation setting guidelines for telehealth and telemedicine in the state.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.