HARRIS COUNTY, Ga. (WRBL)— School is back in session, and educators with the Harris County School District are working to minimize potential absences from the classroom with the help of a new resource.

In January of 2023, the Harris County School District in partnership with Mercer Medicine Harris County introduced their school-based telehealth program free to faculty, staff, and students.

“Our need arose after conversations with Mercer Medicine and various partners so that we could figure out how we could best serve our students and our staff to keep them in school,” Harris County Assistant Superintendent of Support Services Shelia Baker told WRBL. “And to reduce those absenteeism days that we were obviously seeing because of sicknesses.”

Educators say in a rural area like Harris County, scheduling a doctor’s visit and receiving the proper care can take several days.

“We’re in a rural community. A lot of our parents and our families work outside of Harris County. So, we saw the need of students being ill at school, having to be checked out, taken to a physician, hopefully getting a same day appointment, having to receive medication, and then maybe being out of school one or two days to wait on that entire process to take place,” Baker said.

While the visit takes place at the school, parents are still welcome to attend. Baker says parents can come to the school to sit-in during the visit, or virtually call in.

Each of the seven Harris County Schools has a designated telehealth clinic onsite.

With the free telehealth program, anyone enrolled can see a doctor and nurse with Mercer Medicine Harris County the same day from the comfort of their own school.

“Sometimes when students come to us, they have anything from ear infections, common colds, but sometimes there are things that are more serious. So just being able to have this program in place, it educates our families, educates our teachers in terms of what to look for,” Principal of Park Elementary School Dr. Allyson Douthit said. “And then we’re able to comprehensively, as a team, put forth an effort that expedites the process for them to get right back in the seat and not miss a beat.”

The program is also available to faculty and staff, extending access to healthcare right into their workplace.

“Our faculty members have long hours sometimes, and they’re unable to see a doctor when they need to. They’re able to quickly get in at their place of employment and be seen.” Dr. Douthit said. “That means a lot to them in terms of travel time and additional expenses or time off work, it’s right here in in their backyard.”

Families interested in signing their students up for the telehealth program can find enrollment forms in their parent portal online, paper copies are also available at every nurse’s station on campus.

For those without insurance, they do work on a sliding scale so patients can pay out of pocket.

The school district encourages families to sign-up proactively as it takes 24-48 hours for insurance information to be processed. Then, students can be seen on an as needed basis throughout the school year. While enrollment in the program is free, Mercer Medicine handles all billing.