School Nurse Shortage
School budgets cuts mean that school nurse jobs are disappearing across the country, leaving children at risk
Ahead of the Curve
In April 2009 H1N1 flu made it clear that school nurses are also vital front-line defense during epidemics: It was a call to the New York City Department of Health from Mary Pappas, an experienced high school nurse who was alarmed by the number of sick students she was seeing, that alerted authorities that H1N1 had arrived. Nurses are also more likely than untrained staff to know when kids don't need to be sent home. A study published in The Journal of School Nursing found that only 5 percent of kids coming sick or injured to the health office were sent home when evaluated by a school nurse, while untrained staff sent home 18 percent. Indeed, when a nurse position was cut at the Davis-Emerson Middle School, in Tuscaloosa, AL, the attendance rate declined—instead of students with problems getting help and going back to class, they were going home, showing up late, or just not coming to school at all.
Finally, schools with nurses can help keep kids well. Nurses who have time to pay individual attention to children can recognize early signs of trouble, whether it's depression, drug use, or trouble at home or school. Nurses offer vision and hearing screening exams, teach kids to wash their hands properly, and give guidance in nutrition—no small thing at a time when 17 percent of U.S. children ages 2 to 19 are obese.
What You Can Do to Help
The first steps: Determine where your state stands in terms of nurse-to-student ratio on the NASN website (nasn.org). Then make calls closer to home. “Don't assume the person sitting in your local school's health room is a licensed registered nurse,” says NASN president Delack. “Find out if she is. And if not, ask why not.” Join other concerned parents to bring up the problem at district budgeting meetings.
Parents can be active on the national level as well. Bills that would provide states with the funding to reduce the nurse-to-student ratio are before both the Senate and the House of Representatives as of this writing (they are S-2750 and HR-2730). Contact your senator or representative and ask him to join those already cosponsoring the bills. “There's a real link between nursing, health, and education,” says Delack. It's pretty simple: Nurses help keep kids healthy—and when kids are healthy, they're more likely to stay in school and learn.
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