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Northwest Florida Community Hospital and Washington School District bring telehealth to community

K. William Boyer
Washington County News

CHIPLEY AND VERNON - Northwest Florida Community Hospital is partnering with Washington County School District to provide a one of a kind experience for the students in the community.  

In the modern age of technology and in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two entities are partnering up to provide a new method of caring for students at the school clinics by bringing telehealth to them.  According to Jim Taylor, Superintendents of Schools, four schools Rouhlac Middle, Chipley High, Vernon Middle and Vernon High will serve as  test sites for the new program  this school year. 

"This is twenty first century." Taylor said. "We will be able to provide more services to the entire county." 

Taylor said the new telehealth service will be a benefit for parents in that it will prevent them from having to come pic students up from school in the event students are needing to be seen for care. 

"they [the school] would have to have permission of course," he said. "But it makes it far more convenient for students and parents."

Taylor hopes this new program will be considered a success for the community and is something they can share with the neighboring communities in the future.  Currently Washington County is only one of a few school districts in the state offering telehealth in the state to students. 

Michael Kozar, CEO of NWFCH  said the hospital was very excited to be partnering with the district to offer the services. 

"Telemedicine has been around for a while but with COVID it has really been thrusted to the forefront,"  Kozar said. 

Kozar said partnering with the schools was essential right now due to the potential exposure risks.  He said the new telehealth program can serve as a kind of urgent care for students and staff  where they can get checkups for needs including earaches and other symptoms without parents having to leave work and students having to leave schools.  Kozar said hospital staff will be placed at the schools to manage the program and if prescriptions are needed for students they will be written and can be sent directly to a patient's pharmacy from the telehealth location at the school. 

"It saves them from having to pull the child out of school and spending the rest of the afternoon getting them into a doctor, getting them into an appointment." he said. "We can take care of that here. It really helps keeping students in school, teachers in their jobs, district employees in work." 

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The new program is part of the hospital's efforts to be more involved in the community Kozar said, something he expects more hospitals will be doing in the face of the evolving practice of medicine since COVID. Kozar said that for the Vernon schools, the Vernon Clinic staff will be the providers used  for the program while Chipley and Rouhlac will use the Chipley Medical Group and the Express Care staff. 

Michael Kozar, CEO of Northwest Florida Community Hospital
Joe Taylor, superintendent of Washington County Schools
Kathy Verenes, Director of Physician Operations at NWFCH

The program has been in develop for a year Kozar said, ever since he and Superintendent Taylor had been in discussion to bring a form of community health to the schools as a form of outreach. He said they were able to implement the new program into the schools easily as they were currently using the same telehealth platform in the hospitals. 

"We really think that this is the wave of the future and we want to be a part of that," Kozar said. 

Kathy Verenes, Director of Physician Practices who is one of the NWFCH staff members who will be working the new program at the schools, said each school nurse will have different students with different situations each day and the hospital will make sure they have a practice in place to accommodate every need