by Dr. Marita Padilla, PsyD, ABPP
Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center (WCCHC)
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth rapidly emerged as the standard of care for primary and behavioral health services. Telehealth not only offered a safer alternative to in-person services for both patients and providers, but also reduced barriers to access to appropriate medical, behavioral health, and health education services, particularly in low-income, rural areas. Many of the youth in the communities served by Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center (WCCHC) struggled to sufficiently access telehealth services for a variety of reasons.
The grant funding provided by the NNLM allowed our school-based clinics to acquire the necessary technology to sufficiently provide telehealth services as a means to ensure youth have a safe, confidential location to meet with a medical provider, behavioral health provider, and/or health educator.
This project was not without challenges. Despite our project being relatively simple on paper (request for funds to complete a one-time technology upgrade in order to sufficiently provide telehealth services to youth in rural Hawaii), several unforeseen circumstances posed challenges. One such challenge, and probably the most impactful, was the limited supply of equipment nationwide, likely due to several businesses transitioning from in-person services to online. I, as well as our agency’s IT department, worked tirelessly to try to order/acquire computer workstations; however, the shortage significantly delayed the ability to order the needed technology to start our project. As it stands, we ordered everything needed, but are still waiting for receipt of some of the technology ordered simply because supply and demand are still playing catch up.
A second challenge was the rapid and prolonged closures of the schools prevented access to our clinic space to accurately assess our technology needs. When we initially submitted our application for grant funding, we postulated what might be needed to support our efforts. At that point, it was still early in the pandemic. The longer we were out of the schools and away from our clinics, the more we realized the needs differed from what we originally might need. Once we acclimated more to providing telehealth services, we were able to properly assess our needs and adjust accordingly. For this challenge, we were very fortunate to have worked hand-in-hand with our NNLM coordinator to amend our project, to ensure the ability to best serve our youth.
To date, we completed the crux of our project, which was to upgrade our technology in order to be able to provide telehealth services to youth at school-based clinics. Our project, and the impact of this award, will continue as we receive the technology and create spaces for our youth to confidentially access healthcare services.