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Orangeburg County schools helping expand health care; district teaming up with providers to offer telehealth
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Orangeburg County schools helping expand health care; district teaming up with providers to offer telehealth

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The Orangeburg County School District has developed a mobile application that can link its students and their families with telehealth services.

It is something that Annesia Jackson is happy about. The Dallas native moved to Orangeburg three years ago and has two daughters who attend school in the district.

"I think it's important. It gives ready access to a health care representative to be able to assist in situations so we don't have to call and have a waiting time. We can get online and be able to speak to someone right then and right there to help out in a situation," Jackson said.

She added, "This would be really good for us as parents, I believe, just to get that immediate help right then and there."

OCSD partnered with Palmetto Care Connections, a Bamberg-based nonprofit telehealth network; the Regional Medical Center; Family Health Centers Inc. and Bamberg Family Practice for the creation of a S.M.A.R.T. (Students' Medical Access to Resources in Telehealth) Virtual Health Collaborative.

School officials, along with those from partnering agencies, converged upon the district office in Orangeburg on Monday to announce the effort.

Under the initiative, a S.M.A.R.T. Virtual Health Collaborative app now appears on all district-issued devices and leads to a webpage of telehealth providers. Students and families can also begin accessing telehealth services through the district's website by clicking on the app and selecting a provider of their choice.

S.M.A.R.T. can also be accessed directly through the following link: www.ocsdsc.org/telehealth. Individuals can also simply go to www.ocsdsc.org, click on Quick Links at the bottom right of the page, scroll down to Parent/Student Resources and click on OCSD - SMART Virtual Telehealth.

OCSD Superintendent Dr. Shawn Foster said it is critical to provide access to health care services to individuals who are not only without transportation, but the necessary technology to access the services remotely.

Foster recalled speaking with RMC Chief Executive Officer Charles Williams about the challenge.

"I recall Mr. Williams and his epidemiologist were talking about some of the struggles that they were having here in the community in regard to access, that he had people in this community calling in, wanting to see a doctor,” Foster said.

If the caller said they didn’t have transportation, "the hospital then followed up and would ask, 'Well, do you have a device to use?' They said, 'Well, I don't have a device. I don't even have a smart phone.' So they found themselves in a challenging situation, where they were trying to provide services over the phone, which is not an ideal circumstance," he said.

Foster said it wasn't long before the FHC came on board with the telehealth initiative.

An opportunity existed that allowed OCSD to fill a gap in providing services, he said.

"I've said since day one that I hope to have Orangeburg in a space where our education is no longer product-driven, that we're solution-driven.

"When I say product-driven, I mean it's more than about getting 24 credits and getting a high school diploma. It's about being an educational institution that is willing to seek solutions to gaps that we have in our community," he said.

The superintendent thanked the other community partners such as Palmetto Care Connections and its staff, including Director of Technology Matt Hiatt.

PCC is seeking to expand the list of providers in the S.M.A.R.T. Virtual Health Collaborative. There is no expense to medical entities for participation in the collaborative, but there is a request that they provide professional and patient care to those they serve.

PCC Chief Executive Officer Kathy Schwarting said, "Our whole purpose and mission in life is to make sure that rural and underserved communities have access to care. I've spent 25 years in rural health care, and I've always said that your zip code should not define the quality of service you have, the type of service, or the quality of the life that you live."

"If you want to live in Orangeburg, Bamberg, Allendale, you should still have access to the same high-quality services. That's what PCC is built on. ... We have helped lots of rural communities in the state implement school-based telehealth, but not with the vision that Dr. Foster has had. So I'm very grateful for that," Schwarting said.

Schwarting said children will still have access to their primary care providers.

"We have other primary clinics in the county and around the county that would like to participate. We also believe that children should have access to their primary care provider. If they already have a medical home, don't ship them out to a health system. Let them see their health care provider if at all possible and then let the health systems, if needed, complement that service for some specialty services," she said.

"So we're very blessed in this community to have Mr. Williams, Dr. Foster, the Family Health Center," she added.

Williams said, "I am so thankful to Dr. Foster. We sat down and we talked about this. The entire discussion that we had for probably a little over two hours that day, it was never about us. It was all about how we can serve."

"Many of you that know me and you know our team, it's all about trust, building sustainability and always focusing on the community. We do nothing for ourselves, but for the people we are blessed to serve. We are nothing but tools to be used by the master carpenter to do his work," he said.

Williams said the mobile app will allow more people to have access to health care.

“By the grace of God and this partnership, patients that need care now, if they have a school-age child with this device in their home, they will have access. ... We will be able to send them a link, they will be able to hit the link, and they will be able to be seen by their provider. Everything cannot wait."

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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