School nurse shortage could hamper swine flu strategy

School nurse shortage could hamper swine flu strategy

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SALT LAKE CITY -- If and when H1N1 swine flu reappears this fall in the public schools, it WIll be school nurses on the front lines. But with a nationwide shortage of school nurses, will there be enough of them to fight the good fight?

The government recommends one nurse for every 971 students in the country, based on census data. But the national average is more like 2,000 students for every nurse.

In Utah, it's even worse. Schools in the Murray School District have two full-time nurses for about 6,500 students. If you do the math, that's well over a 3,000-to-1 ratio.

Pat O'Hara, director of support services for the Murray District, says he's not surprised there's a shortage. But he says the schools are doing everything they can to stay on top of the swine flu before flu season returns in the fall and winter.

Just this week, O'Hara has been in touch with the Salt Lake Valley Health Department.

"They're about to set up the first meeting for all of the school districts in the valley to begin our planning and our preparation and check our current status," O'Hara said.

Like many other Utah schools, O'Hara says Murray schools are focusing on prevention as the first line of defense against the flu.

  • Step 1: Make sure parents know not to send a sick student to school.
  • Step 2: Make sure kids know how best to prevent the spread of germs.

There are, however, plans in place in case a child becomes ill while at school. If a child shows any signs of flu-like symptoms, they're taken out of the classroom so they can't expose anyone else.

"We put them in the isolation room, and they stay there, removed from the other student body, until the parents can come and get them," O'Hara said.

He says Murray is also keeping a close eye on developments with swine flu in the southern hemisphere, which is in winter and therefore flu season now. They'll look for any lessons to be learned there.

So far, O'Hara says the biggest change parents might notice is that fewer schools will panic and shut their doors over a sick student--they've learned it doesn't stop the spread and prevention works better.

In the meantime, O'Hara says all Utah schools are staying in touch with health officials to make sure they're at the top of their swine flu game.

"Every school district that I'm aware of is plugged into the state health department, plugged into the CDC website, and we're monitoring it on a daily basis," O'Hara said.


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Becky Bruce


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