December 2, 2021

County libraries to offer access for telehealth visits

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Mary Frank, director of Peck Memorial Library in Marathon, shows a computer setup at the library Wednesday to be used for telehealth appointments. Greater Cortland area libraries are working with the Central New York Task Forces to provide free internet access so people can access medical providers.

In rural areas across Cortland County, wi-fi can be critical for connections to the outside world, said Peck Memorial Library Director Mary Frank.

More so, wi-fi can be critical for getting people connections for telehealth services, she said Wednesday.

The Central New York Health Access Task Forces, a group of task forces that works to solve health care-related problems in eight counties, is partnering with greater Cortland area libraries to expand access for telehealth visits beginning Monday, according to a statement by the New York StateWide Senior Action Council Inc.

Task force counties are Cayuga, Cortland, Herkimer, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego and Tompkins, according to the council’s website.

Residents in these counties who need a telehealth visit with their doctor or therapy provider will be able to call 2-1-1 or visit the council’s website to find the nearest telehealth access site.

For libraries like Peck, patients will need to call the library first to schedule a time to use a laptop provided by the library in a private room, Frank said. Once the visit is done, the library will sanitize the computer and desk for the next patient.

“We’re a community organization so of course we’re willing,” to help, Frank said.

If the library is closed during the patient’s visit, they can access the library’s free wi-fi from outside, she added.

Stefania Buta, the task force coordinator for Cayuga, Cortland, Oswego and Tompkins counties, said the access to telehealth visits has been “absolutely needed” during the pandemic.

“People can’t even sign up for their vaccine appointments because they don’t have internet or it’s too expensive,” she said.

Lisa Hoeschele, the executive director and CEO of Family Counseling Services of Cortland County, said programs like this will help bridge the internet access gap that plagues many rural communities in upstate New York. But she added that people who lack transportation to libraries can still be left out.

During the pandemic though, Family Counseling Services has seen appointment attendance rise to almost 100% from 75% pre-pandemic due to telehealth visits, which can be easier for families who don’t have child care or reliable transportation.

Bridging the technology gap, specifically for those who don’t have computers, tablets or Smartphones with video cameras, will be the next barrier to overcome in providing telehealth medicine in rural counties like Cortland.

The program, though, is a step in the right direction, Hoeschele said. “Any increase in capacity for telehealth and communication via broadband is helpful.”