Students, families, and faculty members in four rural Arkansas school districts will have increased access to psychiatric care, obesity prevention support, and dental services thanks to a $1.2 million pilot telemedicine project that is being funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The School Telemedicine in Arkansas (STAR) program will be implemented via a partnership between the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and the Arkansas Department of Education. Officials hope that STAR will improve health and reduce absenteeism.
According to a Nov. 29 news release, the STAR program will initially be implemented in four school districts, all of which already have school-based health centers:
- Jasper School District
- Lee County School District
- Malvern School District
- Magazine School District
In addition to Lee County, the schools that will be part of the STAR program serve students from seven other Arkansas counties. Jasper School District draws students from Carroll, Franklin, Johnson, Madison, and Newton counties. Magazine School District is located in Logan County, and Malvern School District students are from Hot Spring County.
While the STAR program will significantly increase Arkansas students’ access to telemedicine, it is not the only effort to bring this form of medical care to students and families in Arkansas. Early feedback from other programs indicates that the effort is being well received by students and parents.
In a September interview with Little Rock television station KATV, the parent of a kindergarten student who has already had access to school-based telemedicine said that he has been impressed the results of the effort to provide telemedicine services in Arkansas schools.
“I feel like the school wants more answers than just hey, your kid’s sick, come get them,” said Jason Willis. “If your kid’s sick, here’s why, hope you get him or her back as soon as possible,” Willis said.
Willis’s daughter attends school in Benton, Arkansas, a suburb of Little Rock that is located in Saline County. That school, Angie Grant Elementary, receives telemedicine service through Arkansas Children’s Hospital via a separate program that is not affiliated with STAR.
As noted earlier in this article, the STAR program is designed to address dental care, obesity prevention and treatment, and mental health services. Several organizations have noted that expanded access to mental health and behavioral health services is a priority among children, adolescents, and families in Arkansas:
- The National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMH) has reported that 31,000 children in Arkansas have symptoms that are consistent with a diagnosable mental health condition.
- According to the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 12 percent of adolescents in Arkansas had a major depressive episode in the past year.
- Arkansas has the nation’s highest adult obesity rate (39.5 percent) and the fifth-highest childhood obesity rate (20 percent). Many studies have shown that children who struggle with obesity are at increased risk for depression and other mental health challenges.
- Pre-kindergarten screenings show that 16 percent of young children in Arkansas show symptoms of behavioral disorders.
“The STAR project will offer an avenue for students to have more efficient access to medication management and psychiatric services needed to not only improve student attendance but ultimately student performance in the classroom.,” Dr. Elizabeth Kindall, a school-based mental health specialist with the Arkansas Department of Education, said in the news release that announced the STAR funding and pilot sites.
“We are working to simply remove barriers to access in addressing the needs of the whole child. STAR is a huge step toward that goal,” Dr. Kindall added.