Introduction by Josh Golomb, Hazel Health CEO:
This past July, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the people I respect most, Superintendent Adolfo Melara, who led Delhi Unified School District in Merced County, California for seven years. He was one of the first superintendents to introduce telehealth services for all students district-wide through Hazel. Since 2017, Delhi students and families have entrusted Hazel to provide care through over 7,200 visits, with nearly three-quarters of families opting into services. The work in this community is just inspiring.
Read on to hear from Superintendent Melara himself about why he chose to partner with Hazel, how he convinced his community to take a chance on our partnership, and what advice he has for other superintendents.
Josh Golomb, Hazel Health CEO: Thank you so much for speaking with me today. You have been a partner with Hazel for several years now. Could you tell us a little bit about why you partner with Hazel?
Superintendent Adolfo Melara: If you don't mind, I’d like to tell you two stories. One is sad, one is happy. They are both related to this conversation.
When I was about eight years old, I had a distant cousin named Thomas. It was so long ago, maybe over 40 years ago, when he had an accident playing outside and came home with a headache. His parents did not know what could be wrong. So they said rest, put a couple of herbs, try a couple of ointments. Unfortunately, Thomas did not make it. He actually had sustained a severe brain injury.
Fast forward 40 years, and a child comes into school with a headache. The parents don't know what to do and everyone is confused. So the principal, having been trained with Hazel, initiates a meeting with a Hazel medical professional, who notices something and immediately makes a referral to a local doctor. They call the doctor, and by the time the child makes it to the doctor, things are more severe. The doctor's concerns send her to the emergency room, and by the time she gets there, the child is fighting for her life. So let me just fast forward that the child went through emergency brain surgery, spent weeks in rehab. And here's a happy ending. Not only did she come back to school, she's 100% cognitively back. One hundred percent, even though it was major brain surgery. That's why I'm always, always sharing why Hazel has a place in our ecosystem and education and public schools and why it must continue to grow.
Josh: I remember when you called me to tell me that story, I was on the soccer field with my kids at the time. We’ve had many conversations over the years, and that was one that I will never forget. How do you think your school community would be different today had you not had Hazel there to support that student?
Superintendent Melara: When I first learned about Hazel and met you, there was a lot of pressure placed on me from the community because Hazel was new and a private company, not a district or agency. The way that I shared it with the community was by saying that I believed this program could save lives, and if this program could help us keep one child safe, could save one child's life, then it's worth the risk. When that student received the emergency medical care she needed, I wrote to you, I wrote the principal, I wrote the board members, and I said yesterday you saved a life. And what made it happen? Had Hazel not been there, this child would not be with us today. This is the power of your organization.
Josh: Thank you so much for sharing that. As a district leader and also as an educator, how do you see the connection between students’ physical health and their social and emotional wellbeing?
Superintendent Melara: I know the number one, two, three causes of why our children come to an office every morning and want to go home. About a year in with Hazel, I began to see that some of those maladies may be connected to the social emotional. When you have a tummy ache every morning, when you have a headache every morning, but you are well fed, well hydrated, something bigger is going on. Since 2013, our community has been saying we need mental health services in our district, we need social and emotional help. So I think we're serving this community greatly because not only are we serving the medical, but through the medical, we're finding things about the social and emotional.
Josh: As you mentioned earlier, there is so much pressure on superintendents when they want to introduce a new program or organization to their district and school board. We have a lot of superintendents that are joining us as partners to bring Hazel to their communities. What would be your advice on what we should be doing to make the jobs of those superintendents and principals as easy as possible?
Superintendent Melara: First, it helps me out as superintendent when you come with great knowledge and you know your stuff. When you know your ecosystem, your space, your business, that helps me out. When you helped me in board meetings, it showed commitment. You immediately came in and met with me, which assured me of the commitment. Your expertise helped us to narrate why what we're doing is important.
Number two, you're going to have to help me with the soft skills because you're coming into many districts where health is considered a nurse's realm. So understanding that you're going to be working with individuals that may have a lot of questions. What are you doing? Are you going to do my job now? How does it fit with FERPA and HIPAA? So letting them know you will support them and help them.
The third is that you've been very responsive and communicative. You always get us your reports, that really helps me out, having that knowledge and understanding. When a superintendent brings you into their district, they want the staff to know that you are there to do nothing but support them. Then be active and responsive, the way you have been. Not only am I proud of our partnership, I'm heavily reliant on Hazel to serve our children.
Josh: Thank you for your wisdom and your passion and just your friendship. You have always been such a great partner because you saw the vision for what we could be in your district and held us to that standard. This partnership with Hazel would not be here today without your leadership. So thank you. Thank you so much.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Reflections from Josh Golomb, Hazel Health CEO:
Superintendent Melara constantly reminds me of the power technology can play in providing exceptional healthcare. In the story he shared, the student’s primary care provider had initially diagnosed her with the flu during an in-person visit when she presented with a headache and fatigue. However, the student went to the school health office for a Hazel Health telemedicine visit when symptoms had persisted more than a week later. The Hazel provider who treated this student couldn't find an obvious cause for the headache, so she performed a thorough neurologic exam and noticed subtle abnormalities. Any further delay in care could have been catastrophic - the student was treated in the emergency room for a brain abscess just hours later.
I think of this story often as we consider the potential of telehealth. Headaches are one of our most common visit reasons, and while most pediatric headaches are benign, our clinicians follow detailed guidelines to assess and manage each one. Even in the virtual setting, they are able to perform tests and uncover medical issues that one might think could not be done through telehealth. With an incredibly dedicated team and collaborative training, we have been able to create the most robust telehealth visit possible.