February 10, 2005 – Posted at 5:39 a.m. CST
KENNETT -- Video conferencing has been linking folks together across the country for years. It can help doctors diagnose and treat illness from patients they may have never even been in the same room. But it's also being used right here in Region 8 to bring families closer together.
The Family Clinic in Kennett is letting military families talk with their loved ones in the Middle East free of charge, and it's face to face.
"Just the idea that we can do that to participate and help those folks touch base and make sure their sons and daughters, husbands and wives are ok," said Darryl Roberts of the Semo Health Network, "We figure we are doing our small part."
It's funded by a University of Missouri grant through the office for advancement of tele-medicine, and the program started to save folks time and travel.
"We work with rural health clinics because there are a lot of folks it would be a burden for them to drive from Kennett to Columbia for medical treatment," said Roberts.
The program is just under a month old and for those folks who have used it, they say it's an experience of a lifetime. Military families can speak with their loved ones for up to an hour.
"It was a pretty powerful moment when mom got to see her son physically walk in front of the camera, and at that point she physically knew he was ok," said Joe Tracy of the University of Missouri via teleconference, "We just make sure there is a box of tissues standing by."
But you may have to move the moon and stars to set up a conference. It's not easy linking two worlds. Right now the program is only able to link with soldiers stationed at Fort Cook and Fort Tagi.
"You first link to either freedomcalls.org or link on the University of Missouri website and there's a form to download and fax to the University of Missouri. That's to get the ball rolling. Mizzou will then get in touch with the folks at Freedom Calls, which is out of New York. Freedom Calls takes care of all the background work in Iraq and let's soldiers know there is somebody here who would like to talk with them," said Roberts.
The folks at Semo Health Services understand that a simple phone home can go a long way.
"We make sure the calls get answered, leave a box of Kleenex handy, because what I understand, it's very moving experience for them and then we get out of the way," said Roberts.
To set up an appointment to talk to your loved one serving overseas, you can contact the University of Missouri at 573-884-7958 and ask for Mary or Nikki. You can also log onto freedomcalls.org or www.missouri.edu.