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Federal Grants to Boost Telehealth in School-Based Health Centers

120 school-based health centers around the country are getting $11 million in HRSA grants to upgrade services and develop telehealth programs that expand access to mental health, substance abuse and obesity-related services.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- More than 100 school-based health centers across the country are getting federal funding to develop telehealth and mHealth platforms for mental health, substance abuse, and childhood obesity-related services.

The US Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) announced the $11 million grant last week. According to the agency, some 120 school-based health centers will get funding “to improve existing school-based health center facilities through minor alteration and renovation activities and/or to purchase equipment, including telehealth equipment.”

“School-based health centers play a critical role in preventing, screening, and treating some of the most common behavioral health issues known to affect student performance, overall health, and personal safety, including depression, anxiety, social conflict, adverse childhood experiences and attention disorders,” Jim Macrae, Associate Administrator of the HRSA's Bureau of Primary Health Care, said in a press release.

A list of the school-based health centers receiving funding was not available.

With health issues involving children and adolescents skyrocketing across the country, schools and school districts are turning to connected health platforms to improve access to healthcare resources, including primary and specialist care services. Many partner with local health systems to establish virtual care programs or telehealth stations within the schools.

Congress has also sought to improve school-based health services. In 2017-18, Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters reintroduced the Hallways to Health Act, a bill they’d launched one year earlier to create a demonstration project to expand telehealth access in schools and in medically underserved areas. A similar bill was introduced in the House by Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes.

The bill built on the success of Hallways to Health, a program launched in 2013 by the School-Based Health Alliance, with support from Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools program, to highlight how school-based health centers around the country can “advance wellness for students, school employees, and the community by integrating health into classrooms, teachers’ lounges, and neighborhoods.”

Neither bill made it through Congress, and it remains to be seen whether they’ll be reintroduced this year.

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