School Nurses: Critical to Safety, Yet An Endangered Species

Posted by on October 8, 2010

Facing increased need and a “patchwork” funding system, school nurses are critical to school safety and emergency preparedness. But are they an endangered species?

We know children cannot learn at their maximum capabilities if they are pre-occupied with their physical health, mental health, and personal safety concerns.  Add to this the number of kids on prescription medicines, medically fragile students, nutrition and health concerns of children from low-income homes, and the latest federal pressures for nutrition and anti-obesity change.

Yet half of our nation’s schools lack a full-time registered nurse, according to a recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation brief entitled “Unlocking the Potential of School Nursing: Keeping Children Healthy, In School, and Ready to Learn.”

School nurses are critical players in a school crisis.  We worked with a school nurse who administered triage to student victims of a multiple slashing attack by a violent student.  We see them on crisis teams as critical players in emergency planning and as liaisons with public health officials in developing school plans in preparation for pandemic outbreaks.

On a day-to-day basis, school nurses deal with issues from asthma to diabetes, connecting students with substance abuse treatment to mental health services, referring families to care providers and navigating insurance challenges, and managing medically fragile students and those with chronic conditions.  The report details many other roles school nurses play, as well.

Senator Olympia Snowe sums up the challenge schools face with school nursing:

“A school nurse is the only consistent contact that millions of children have with a health care professional, yet half of the nation’s schools lack a full-time registered nurse.  We need to make sure that all children have access to a nurse in their schools.”

It is interesting to me, and a rather pathetic statement, that in a climate driven by education reform, stimulus plans that fund pork-filled pet projects of DC politicians and bureaucrats, and alleged claims of commitment to school safety, we struggle to have reasonable school nursing support in our schools.  Time and time again in our school safety consultations with schools, we see how school nurses are a treasured and valuable resource in both day-to-day and crisis situations.

Does your school have a school nurse and is she/he a valued partner in your school safety planning?

Ken Trump

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