From ICUs to the most remote locations, COVID-19 accentuated the demands on healthcare resources and staffing worldwide. The need for professional staff has been particularly acute in schools. During the pandemic, school nurses play multiple roles keeping students and school staff safe while working with local officials to maintain precautionary protocols to limit the risk of infection. The State of Maine Departments of Education and Health and Human Services recently announced a partnership with Avel eCare to provide virtual school nursing services.

Maine is offering the program statewide at no cost to schools. Maine allocated part of the state’s COVID-19 federal relief funds to cover the costs of the eCare School Health program. As one of Avel’s eight different eCare telemedicine service offerings, the School Health program employs high-definition video conferencing via a secure mobile video unit to provide nursing coverage throughout the school day for K-12 schools. School staff members connect with the eCare School Health registered nurses by pressing a button on the mobile unit. A nurse will respond to the call within 5 minutes.

The nurses in the telemedicine service provide multiple forms of assistance, including responding to urgent health care needs resulting from injury or illness. The virtual nurses also can assist with developing emergency health plans, help with 504 and Individualized Education Program (IEP) plans, and fill in when regular school nurses are not available. In addition, the virtual nurses can provide guidance for care for students with complex or chronic health conditions, refer students and families to local resources, support case management, and act as points of contact for medication refills, changes in medical orders, and to support local nursing care.

A CDC Healthy Schools report found that school nurses help students and community schools in a variety of manners including reduction in absenteeism, helping students and families access health insurance, coordinating care between family members and health care providers, and more. The CDC report cited a 2014 study published in JAMA Pediatrics, School Nursing: Beyond Medications and Procedures, that found each dollar spent in school nursing programs saved $2.20 by reducing the costs of emergency room visits and parental absence from work while caring for sick children.

In normal times, services such as the Avel eCare School Health program can expand access to health care in a cost efficient manner. During health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual medical services are an important emerging solution to stretched-thin staff and limited resources.