While school systems throughout Maryland rapidly transitioned to online and distance learning in mid-March, school-based health centers have not been able to shift to telehealth with the same speed.
This is largely due to requirements from the Maryland State Department of Education for school-based health centers, such as in-person meetings, in order to offer telehealth services. Other state health providers like hospitals and private practitioners do not have to take these extra steps.
A state lawmaker is urging the education department to ease those requirements to ensure students are getting proper care while schools remain closed.
School-based health centers provide primary care and dental and behavioral health services to uninsured and poor students who have less access to health care. Rural counties usually have fewer pediatricians available, making school-based health centers critical for the well-being of all students.
Extra telehealth review requirements have made it difficult for school-based health centers to operate during the pandemic, particularly those that did not offer telehealth prior to school closures. Many have either stopped providing services altogether or turned to providing uncompensated care by phone, state Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) wrote in a letter to State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon.
Kagan asked the State Department of Education to remove extra telehealth review requirements for school-health centers.
With more children at home during the pandemic, identifying potential cases of abuse or neglect is more difficult yet more important than ever, Kagan argued. Although telephone calls are also possible, telehealth is the best option for school-based health centers to assess students’ well-being, she said.
On May 29, a group of senators called for increased funding for children’s health services, including telehealth programs, to help children at home during the pandemic. “Improved use of telehealth will increase points of access and continuity for each child and family,” the senators said in the statement. They stressed that telehealth is critical for children to connect with behavioral health providers — an option that has become even more important due to the behavioral and emotional consequences associated with the pandemic.
Kagan believes that the unnecessary barriers to telehealth services that Maryland’s school-based health centers are currently facing should be eliminated.
“It is imperative that Maryland makes health care as accessible as possible for our students, especially during this pandemic. Our children are counting on us now — more than ever before,” Kagan said in a statement.
Lora Rakowski, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said the agency has received Kagan’s letter and “is researching the issues addressed and will respond promptly.”