The following story aired on Channel 3/9 a few weeks ago and was recently posted on the Channel 3000 web site. This story discusses the impact of cutbacks of in-school staff, in this case school nurses, and reflects a serious issue that affects all of our schools. I urge you to read the extended story, which includes data on the number of students with serious chronic medical conditions in our schools.
When I was growing up, the school nurse was the lady in sturdy shoes and white opaque stockings who administered hearing and vision exams. We avoided her like the plague.
Today’s school nurses are a far cry from what I grew up with in the 1960s and 1970s. They often are the primary health care providers for students. For students with chronic diseases, trained nurses are the key link between families and schools. In many of our schools, nurses provide gently used clothing – everything from underwear to mittens – for students who come to school without proper clothing, or who need emergency replacement clothing. They serve as de facto counselors for students who visit them with health problems that may come from stress at school or at home.
School Nursing Shortage Affects Madison Students
POSTED: 12:50 pm CST November 22, 2005
UPDATED: 10:30 am CST November 23, 2005
In the Madison School District, up to 700 kids a day need medical attention. But as News 3’s Dawn Stevens reported, sometimes the person taking care of them doesn’t have official medical training.
The lives of 450 children at Muir Elementary School are in the hands of Nurse Lisa Keller. She helps kids with asthma feel better, and takes care of any other medical needs.
More than 50 Muir Elementary students can walk into her office on a busy day. Six take daily medication, and a handful are profiled in a special book, because they’re at a higher risk for a life threatening situation.
“There’s a book with emergency plans in it so if there’s a sub, or if Alice our secretary had to take over, they could pull it, see their picture and see their plan,” said Keller.
Another part of the plan is in the lunch room. Pictures are posted on the wall of kids who may be at-risk for food allergies. If a child has a bad reaction an epi-pen — an injector used to fight an allergic reaction — is right there.
“It’s in a hidden place but the lunch lady has actually been trained,” said Keller.
The lunch lady isn’t the only one whose trained to tackle life threatening situations. If Nurse Keller or the nurse’s assistant isn’t around, like at most schools, the secretary takes over.
“It is very stressful, there definitely could be life-or-death situations,” said Alice Leidel, school secretary at Muir Elementary.
Alice has taken CPR. She realizes if a child is having a seizure, an allergic reaction, or any other potentially deadly situation, she’s not as qualified as the nurse or nurse assistant.
“It isn’t always real easy to make those split second decisions,” said Leidel.
“They don’t have the assessment skills that a nurse or nursing assistant would have. That’s a problem,” said Keller.
It’s a problem facing schools across in the Madison area and across Wisconsin. While Keller’s office is covered most of the time, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction says many rural schools have no coverage most of the time. That means secretaries, principals and teachers must make crucial medical decisions.
The National Association of School Nurses recommends a ratio of one nurse to every 750 kids. Madison’s kindergarten through fifth grade schools have a ratio of 1 to 782, while Monona is at 1 to 909. Verona has one nurse to every 1650 kids. In Middleton, the k through 12 nurse ratio is one to every 1556. In Janesville, there’s one nurse to every 1659 students.
“I think schools would like more help,” said Nurse Linda Caldart-Olson of the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
But because budget cuts won’t allow more help, schools have to come up with their own life saving plan. Just this year in Madison schools, budget cuts resulted in the elimination of one nursing position.
To put this story in to perspective, here’s a look at how many children in the Madison School District have serious health issues:
# 22,000 students have asthma
# 1394 students have allergies and may use epi-pens
# 103 students have seizure disorders
# 68 have type 1 diabetes