Schools may see healthcare robots on campus

Natchitoches Regional Medical Center CEO Kirk Soileau described the advantages of telemedicine robots such as the one at his right. Telemedicine is designed for remote clinics and community health centers and is being introduced into schools. The robot is equipped with cameras, lens and microphones. A nurse practitioner at the NRMC walk-in clinic can dial in to examine a student at a school. Photo by Carolyn Roy

Carolyn Roy | News Editor
The Natchitoches Parish School Board will begin a pilot program designed to deliver health care to students who may not have access to medical services.
At the board’s committee meeting Tuesday, representatives of Natchitoches Regional Medical Center (NRMC) introduced board members to an electronic “robot” that will deliver those services in conjunction with the hospital’s walk-in clinic on Keyser Avenue.

This article published in the Feb. 12, 2022 print edition

CEO Kirk Soileau, Vice President of Business Development and Philanthropy Tom Matuschka and Director of Innovation Lance Nelson talked about the advantages of telemedicine that came to the forefront of health care with the onset of COVID-19.
Soileau described how a nurse practitioner at the walk-in-clinic can dial in to check a student’s vitals, order rapid tests and prescribe medicine that can be delivered to the school or the student’s home by the hospital’s 24-hour pharmacy that is about to open. Nelson described a digital stethoscope as “amazing.”
A robot is already in a pilot program at the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts. Soileau said the program is an attempt to broaden the hospital’s services and improve delivery of health and wellness programs.
Supt. of Schools Dr. Grant Eloi said the program will reduce the flow of health problems in the school and mitigate the spread of communicable diseases such as flu and strep that potentially affect an entire family.
Eloi will meet with the NRMC representatives next week to work out details with the goal of starting the program in March at Natchitoches Magnet School. That school was chosen because of the range of student population from K-8 and distance from the walk-in clinic. Eloi said his goal is to have robots in all Natchitoches Parish schools except for the four that have on-site clinics.
Soileau said the installation of broadband infrastructure will be huge for healthcare and telemedicine.
No student will be treated without parental consent. The board will pay for the robots with “100 percent ESSER money or Medicaid,” Eloi said. ESSER funds are Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds that are part of a stimulus bill passed by Congress.
In other business, Director of Personnel Linda Page described her recruiting efforts. She plans visits to Hardin University, University of Southern Mississippi, University of Central Arkansas, Grambling State, Jackson State Technical, University of Mississippi, Stephen F. Austin, University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Northwestern State. A vigorous advertising and recruiting campaign will run from March 17 through August.
Page described her meetings with uncertified teachers to tell them about the school board’s effort to assist with earning certification including providing funding and resources.
Director of Finance Lee Waskom reported sales tax collections were up 16 percent, or an additional $1.7 million, over the same period last year from July 1 to Jan. 31.
In his report, Eloi said the number of COVID-19 cases has declined for four weeks with under a 1 percent positivity rate, or only six cases parish wide.
Redistricting consultant Danny Garret will meet with the board Feb. 17 at 10 a.m. in small groups to discuss the districts. The meetings will be open to the public.
Eloi said a new salary schedule is ready for the board’s consideration and it will be “the most important thing you will vote on” as a board. It will be presented at the March meeting.
He is still getting input on next year’s school calendar that will be presented to focus groups of principals and teachers. There will be a vote on the options.
State testing begins in only 44 days. The ACT is March 8-17; Leap 25 is April 27-29 and May 2-3. Rather than testing, he called it “a celebration of our knowledge.”
The board approved three items concerning pay for summer school personnel.
The Natchitoches Parish School Board welcomed its newest member, Lelal Harvey, who represents District 5. Harvey fills the seat that became vacant when Katrina Willis moved.

Summer Learning Program Site Coordinators will receive stipends of $5,000 each. There will be two per site at an anticipated six sites. They will be paid with ESSER funds.
Summer school food service monitors will receive $28 per hour and technicians will receive $14 per hour.
Teachers will earn $50 per hour.
Summer school will be available for grades K-12 with enrollment expected to be larger than last year.
Board President Reba Phelps said she will ask a principal to spotlight the good things that are happening at their school as a feature at future meetings.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our scores and where we are,” said M.R. Weaver Principal Armetrice Williams. She has been at Weaver for four years and is in her second year as principal. She commended Heather Burrell, Ester Hoover, Caelon Powell and Kelci Latchie for the number of students in their classes who scored mastery or advanced on in-school “Star” testing.
In the positive behavior program, she held weekly drawings and lunch out incentives. She said the school has a new door so visitors must be buzzed in and there is new playground equipment as well as new bathrooms. Williams said construction at her school has been a great thing.