Pediatricians’ national group calls for at least one nurse in every school; Ky.’s schools have a long way to go to meet that goal

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky’s high schools fall far short of new recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics that call for every school in the United States to have at least one nurse on site.

Only 42.2 percent of Kentucky’s high schools have a full-time nurse, 37.4 percent have a part-time nurse and 20.4 percent do not have one at all, according to research led by Teena Darnell, assistant professor of nursing at Bellarmine University.

“School nurses improve school attendance and decrease the dropout rate which leads to better academic outcomes. . . . Most importantly, they help keep the nearly 680,000 children attending public school in Kentucky safe, healthy and ready to learn,” Eva Stone and Mary Burch said in an e-mail to Kentucky Health News.

Stone, an advanced-practice registered nurse, is the director of student support services for Lincoln County Schools. Burch is the health coordinator for Erlanger-Elsmere Schools.

The pediatrics academy’s policy statement, published in its journal Pediatrics, replaces a previous recommendation that districts have one nurse for every 750 healthy students, and one for every 225 students who need daily professional nursing assistance.

“The use of a ratio for workload determination in school nursing is inadequate to fill the increasingly complex health needs of students,” says the policy statement.

School nurses today monitor more children with special needs, help with medical management in areas such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, life-threatening allergies, asthma and seizures and also provide immunizations, work on obesity prevention efforts and provide substance abuse assessments, among other things, says the statement.

As school nurses have been eliminated from school budgets, school-based health centers, which provide health care to students through a public-private partnership, have become popular. This model allows schools to bill private insurance or Medicaid for services to offset some of the costs.

Most recently, the Carter County Board of Education unanimously approved a one-year contract with Kings Daughters Medical Center of Ashland to provide its school health services, Joe Lewis reports for the Grayson Journal Times. The hospital will provide a nurse practitioner who will rotate throughout the district’s schools.

That doesn’t comply with the new guidelines to have one nurse in every school, but the program plans to use telemedicine to keep the nurse practitioner connected to the schools throughout the day.

“Unfortunately, Kentucky has no requirement to have a registered nurse in every school,” Stone and Burch write. “Every school needs a nurse. What we see in the schools is a reflection of the health of the community. Kentucky is missing an incredible opportunity to not only keep children safe at school but also to implement a system of improving long term health in the commonwealth.”

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