BUTTE — The Southwest Montana Community Health Center in Butte is located a couple of miles away from Kennedy Elementary School, right under the M on the Butte Hill—not a long distance to go for treatment, but medical professionals and Butte school district officials are cutting the time it takes to treat sick kids by using technology to treat patients remotely.
"Having access to medical care where you go to school and having access to behavioral healthcare where you go to school can be incredibly beneficial," says Dr. Serena Brewer, a family physician and chief medical officer for the Butte Health Center.
Dr. Brewer says as of 2016 there were only two-and-a-half school-based clinics in the state of Montana, but today that number has grown to 30, including the first program in southwest Montana right here in Butte.
Seated at her computer across town and with the assistance of a school nurse using a device that is no bigger than a cell phone, Dr. Brewer can hear a child’s heart and lungs and look at their ears, nose, and throat.
"So I can do pretty much most of the medical exam that I would do on-site and then we can decide from there if additional testing is needed or if we need to send someone for x-rays or what the next steps of treatment are," says Dr. Brewer.
"We know that absenteeism across the district can be an issue, so we really want to support the schools in keeping kids in classrooms and learning."
And it’s not just absenteeism. Dr. Brewer says that studies show behavior and grades also improve, which has long-term effects on graduation rates and a child’s future.
"It’s an opportunity to identify kids who are at risk earlier on than perhaps waiting until they are in a moment of crisis either with their mental health or with their physical health," says Dr. Brewer.
She says the program is also critical for parents who might face economic consequences from missing work for a sick child.
"To have to step away to take your kid to the doctor to find out if they are okay, to pick up a prescription—you know, it's a really big impact on families and this program enables them to not have to step away from work but their child can still be seen and taken care of," says Dr. Brewer.
The program is currently offered at West Elementary School and Kennedy Elementary School but Dr. Brewer and her team are looking forward to expanding the program in the future.