Progress has been slow on the “first of its kind” deal between the Volusia County school district and Advent Health (formerly Florida Hospital).
The partnership that traded advertising rights for health care services, education and some cash got off to a rocky start this summer. It came seemingly out of nowhere when it was announced in July, although the district had been working on the move for months, and officials at competing hospital chain Halifax Health felt left out of the loop.
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Even after all that, it took some time for the partnership to begin to take shape and start influencing things at the school level.
“It really is taking a long time to get all the pieces together,” said Kelly Amy, the district’s manager of strategic partnerships. “A large chunk of this year is creating the structures to make the partnership as successful as possible. And that takes a little bit of time.”
But as classes resume Monday, things are taking off in 2019.
In January, 36 schools will have access to e-care, or the ability to visit a doctor via video chat, designed to cut down on the number of students who are absent a significant portion of the year. The district also is laying the groundwork for its new concussion protocol for sports participants. And schools are starting to revamp their individual health care academies with new equipment and learning opportunities.
January marks about six months into the five-year, $2 million deal. Here’s a look at how it’s starting to take form.
One of the major focuses of the partnership with Advent Health is to reduce the number of students in Volusia County who are chronically absent. It’s been a priority for Superintendent Tom Russell because of the link between attendance and student performance.
Volusia County tracks the number of students who miss 10 percent of school — that’s two days a month, or 18 days over the whole year. Around 17 percent of Volusia’s students miss that many days. The state tracks chronic absenteeism as students who miss more than 21 days, and by that measure Volusia exceeded the state average in the 2016-2017 school year.
While chronic absenteeism can be attributed to a number of factors, the Advent Health partnership is focusing on one root cause: medical concerns.
“The discussion turned to looking at ways that (Advent Health) could assist with getting students health care so they had less time outside of school for illness,” Amy said.
Noting that missed days can add up fast when students need to see a doctor, the e-care solution was born. It’s a free service for students and employees that parents can use if they have to come in to get their sick child from school. Essentially, they can have a doctor’s appointment in the school clinic on an iPad. Doctors can conference with the parents and student, diagnose them and even send prescriptions.
“We’re hopeful this will be a model that really takes off,” Amy said.
Independent of the e-care partnership, the district has a series of other programs in place to try to keep students in school. They send "nudge letters" to parents with children who miss a lot of school that includes data showing how their child compares to other students. There was a competition for students to create art that encourages others to come to school. There’s a superintendent’s challenge to schools to improve their chronic absenteeism rates. Social workers even make home visits in come cases.
If the e-care systems don't help, the hospital and district are committed to being flexible and working on other solutions.
“Ensuring our kids are moving toward graduation, that’s really the goal,” said Dianne Martin-Morgan, coordinator of school social services. Offering e-care is just “one more tool in the toolbox.”
Another facet of the partnership agreement was for Advent Health to work closely with student athletes and develop a concussion protocol.
That protocol includes testing all athletes to establish a baseline of cognitive function. If an athlete gets a concussion at some point, they will retake the test, and doctors will be able to compare the results to determine when they’re healthy enough to return to play.
“It’s giving parents a bit of peace of mind that there is a proactive approach,” said Lary Beal, an athletic specialist for the district. “We’re not waiting until a concussion happens, so the parents feel a little bit more at ease.”
By November, more than 2,000 of the roughly 5,000 student athletes in the county had been tested.
The partnership, valued at $1 million in in-kind services and $200,000 a year to the district, also has a large education component, with the hospital agreeing to offer internships and field trips for students, plus host a spring career fair to recruit graduates.
A majority of the cash is distributed to the nine health care academies at Volusia middle and high schools, which spent the money on equipment like EKG machines and blood pressure cuffs.
Some money was set aside for transportation to Advent Health sites for tours and internships.
And another portion of the money was held for principals across the district to apply to start new health care academies. Amy said that over the five-year span of the agreement, she hopes for five new programs.
"When you look at the job numbers, the data shows that health care employment opportunities are just going to continue to skyrocket," she said. "It really is helping to prepare students for viable careers."