Dozens of Atlanta schools to offer telehealth services to students

Atlanta Public Schools is expanding telehealth services so more students can get online access to physical and mental health care.

The school board recently approved a one-year contract, estimated to cost $523,500, with Hazel Health. The California-based company specializes in school-based telehealth services.

Students at each of the district’s 64 traditional, non-charter schools will be able to connect with doctors and therapists either at school or at home by logging onto the Hazel Health platform. Students can see a doctor or nurse practitioner virtually from the school nurse’s office. Each campus also will designate a space where students can go to join online therapy sessions led by a Georgia-licensed mental health provider.

APS officials said they’re launching the program this fall to respond to growing concerns about students’ well-being since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal is to help students remain in school and provide access to health care.

“It is imperative that our scholars have access to physical and mental health services,” said APS Superintendent Lisa Herring in a written statement. “Removing these barriers is a game-changer for us because simply put, our scholars cannot reach their full academic potential if they are not well.”

Last school year, more than 25,000 Atlanta students were sent home from classes by a school nurse, according to district numbers. And more than a third of APS students were chronically absent, meaning they missed 10 or more class days last year. Health issues are one reason students miss school.

Student surveys show a quarter of third through 12th graders are at “elevated or extremely elevated” risk of developing an emotional or behavior disorder, according to the district.

Telehealth services already are provided at two sites, including Fickett Elementary School, which teamed up with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to launch a program in 2018. Finch Elementary School also has a program.

APS spokesman Seth Coleman said the district will start rolling out services in additional schools in October. School nurses will be trained to use the equipment.

Hazel Health will bill families’ insurance providers for services they receive. Coleman, in an email, said that “no student will be turned away due to lack of insurance.”