Last spring, a child in our community sustained a cardiac arrest while at school. Fortunately, school nurse Pam Atkins had changed her schedule — and just happened to be at this particular school on that day. Her quick action saved the child’s life.
While this is an extreme and dramatic incident that, of course, doesn’t occur on a daily basis, it underscores the wisdom of striving to staff every school with a full-time school nurse.
SCHOOL NURSE ATKINS SPEAKS UP
Let me share with you what Pam Atkins conveyed: “I am so thankful that things went well for our student, and I was able to assist in ensuring a positive outcome for this child. Today, school nurses cover multiple school sites and our students come to school with more serious health issues, including cardiac disease. They may require complex interventions including, but not limited to intravenous infusions, oral medications, tracheostomy care and administration of emergency medications for seizures, acute life-threatening asthmatic attacks or allergic reactions.”
Atkins continued: “Although there may be health clerks and other staff who care for a student’s medical needs, they do not have the specialized training and expertise of a registered, credentialed school nurse. When a child needs a more skilled and knowledgeable medical professional to ensure a positive outcome for their health, safety and well-being, the credentialed school nurse may not be immediately available.”
That is why pediatricians believe we need one nurse at each school.
A CRITICAL COMPONENT OF THE TEAM
School nurses are specially trained. They understand and educate others about normal childhood development; they promote health and safety, intervene with actual and potential health problems; provide case-management services; and actively collaborate with physicians. As a pediatrician, I want every parent and grandparent to know that school nurses are a critical component of your child’s school team.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes the important role school nurses play in promoting the optimal bio-psycho-social health and well-being of school-aged children in the school setting.
In addition to the medical needs of our school children, there is evidence that a full-time school nurse is cost-effective, saving dollars by preventing disease and promoting health and wellness.
- School attendance improves.
- Health care needs and procedures dealt with at school by a school nurse in a school setting saves teacher time, and can avoid all the costs (including parents’ lost time at work) if procedures are performed at a medical facility.
- Educating children about disease-prevention and healthy lifestyles is woven in the school curriculum and the school culture.
- Measure BB, authored by my husband and former Councilman Larry Agran in 2012, and passed by Irvine voters, provided for City funds to be used to increase the overall number of school nurses in Irvine schools — those administered by the Irvine Unified School District, and those run by Tustin Unified School District. Yet, we still need to invest more to reach the goal of one full-time school nurse for each and every school.
In Orange County school districts, the ratios of a credentialed school nurse to students varies widely, ranging from 1:1,600 all the way to 1:15,000. There is only one district in Orange County that has a full-time credentialed school nurse at every school site, and that is the Huntington Beach Union High School District.
You may want to check with your district to determine how they compare with other Orange County districts in supporting students’ health care needs.
What can parents do? Support the goal of one full-time trained school nurse at each and every school. And, communicate this with your City Councilmembers and School Board!
You can download the American Academy of Pediatrics 2016 Policy Council on School Health Pediatrics 2016:137(6) e20160852, at: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/137/6/e20160852.