I have a vivid memory of visiting my school nurse in elementary school. I had a horrible migraine and was sent to the comfort of her room that actually had a bed and a blanket until my mom was able to come get me.
My daughter won’t have that memory. When kids get sick at her school, they’re sent to sit on the couch in the principal’s office until their parents can come pick them up. There’s a nursing student that passes through occasionally, but she’s not a fixture in the school by any means.
According to the NC Department of Health and Human Services, there are 1,200 registered school nurses in North Carolina. Each nurse serves an average of 1,177 students — which is 57% more students than the federally recommended ratio. Beyond that, North Carolina school nurses are expected to do more than just help a sick child. In many schools they’re the only licensed health care provider and asked to coordinate the school’s health programs in addition to caring for sick children.
The State General Assembly funds school nurse positions, and at a time when many NC school systems have less financial resources, they’re at the mercy of the money the state provides.
The question is: at what cost? Kids get sick. They have allergies – more and more it seems. They need medication. Who is left to manage their health needs when those needs arise? It’s teachers, who we’re already asking to do more, and who in some cases dip into their own pockets to fund their students’ education.
Sometimes school staff is unable to assist a student. Many schools have staff that are trained to help administer an injection for a student with diabetes or in need of prescribed medication, but their hands are tied if a student needs a medicine they don’t have a prescription for.
Some parent groups in North Carolina are taking up the cause. The group N.C. Parents Advocating for School Health has worked for two years to increase school nurse funding in Charlotte with success. By March of 2015, there will be one nurse in every school in the city. The group points out on their website that school nurses are needed to help with allergies, asthma care, cardiovascular issues and even mental health care.
Bottom line – we can’t be with our kids every minute of every day, but we have to hope that in school, someone is there to care for them if they get sick. It’s school nurses who are equipped to do that, but if they’re not there, or they’re overworked, they can’t successfully do their job.