The Heartland Telehealth Resource Center (HTRC) is one of 12 regional and two national telehealth resource centers committed to implementing telehealth programs for rural and underserved communities. These centers are funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Health Resources and Services Administration. 

The HTRC provides assistance free of charge to clients and providers of telehealth. It serves as a neutral third party that can make people more comfortable seeking out help, especially first-timers to telehealth. Their work includes telehealth implementation for providers, assistance with billing practices and procedures, call-in health in schools and more. The services that facilitate the assistance include staff training, online resources, webinars and workshops, presentations and consultations. One of the more community-based programs of the HTRC is Telehealth ROCKS. 

Telehealth ROCKS is a program of the HTRC in collaboration with the University of Kansas School of Medicine and based in Kansas. The program began about 10 years ago to help incorporate behavioral health into pediatric care clinics. The program focuses on rural children experiencing poverty in the poorest nonurban region of Kansas. In this region, 30% of children live in poverty, and many are at risk for behavioral and developmental disabilities that can have negative health impacts even into adulthood. The delays to treatment in rural health care extend into children’s behavioral care, a problem Telehealth ROCKS aims to address. 

This is done by school-based telehealth services. An in-school professional, such as a nurse, counselor or psychologist, uses a Zoom-like program to bring in a behavioral health professional, linking education, behavioral health and primary care for the student. In addition to bringing care directly to children in a safe and familiar environment, it brings parents, educators and health providers all onto the same page. School staff can give the health team greater insight into the cultural and socioeconomic context of any behavioral needs, and all parties can be involved with creating and implementing a care plan. After such success in schools, the program is working toward a more community-based approach that gives the young people being treated more agency in the initiation and planning stages of their care. 

Over the past year, Telehealth ROCKS has done an increased number of parent-child interaction therapy sessions. Given the technology infrastructure they already had, it was relatively simple to transition many of the in-person community trainings into virtual sessions. Resilience and self-care are crucial to how young people respond to crises such as the pandemic, and that has been a focus of many community trainings in recent months. 

These trainings allow communities to receive information and guidance from non-local experts through telehealth technology. Currently, HTRC is working on an adult behavioral health program. They are hoping to continue to address the lack of behavioral health care in clinical and primary care practices in rural Kansas. Going forward, they are hoping to incorporate behavioral health into the care provided by disaster first responders. 

Robert Stiles, MA, MPh, Department of Pediatrics Program Director at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, spoke to the KC Digital Drive Health Innovation Team on March 31, 2021.  View the slides from the presentation here. 

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