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School Nurses Becoming a Rare Breed

School Nurses Becoming a Rare Breed

Posted - Sep. 2, 2003 at 4:40 p.m.



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Sandra Yi ReportingDo you know what kind of health care your child's school provides? A recent nationwide survey shows there's a wide disparity between what parents expect and what most schools provide.

The survey shows most parents support health care in schools. Ninety percent also want schools to provide care for children with chronic conditions like asthma. But there's a gap between what parents want and what's actually available for their kids.

Nurse Susan Denney trains a Ridge Crest Elementary School secretary to use an epipen, to treat a student who has an allergic reaction.

Susan Denney, School Nurse: "I think there are a lot of parents that don't realize that the secretary is the one that's giving most of the care at school."

It’s a trend at many schools in Utah and possibly nationwide. 2002 statistics show there was one school nurse for every 3,500 students.

Julia Graham Lear, Center for Health and Health Care in Schools: "What we know is there are 95,000 schools in the country, only 40,000 school nurses and less than 80,000 counselors; and most of them do academic counseling."

In Utah there are 120 school nurses for the more than 400,000 students. The Jordan district, the state's largest, has nine.

Nurses like Susan Denney spend most of their time training school staff and writing health care plans for kids with special needs.

Susan Denney: "It ends up that most of the nurses have nine to ten schools that they have to cover."

Denney says at the same time, the number of students with health problems, specifically asthma, diabetes and severe allergies is quickly increasing. School staff will administer medication but lack the judgment of someone with medical training.

Susan Denney: "There's a lot of things that they just have to call 911 because there's not a nurse available."

Denney says parents concerned about their child's health care in schools should get involved and ask questions.

Susan Denney: "If their child has a need to make sure that they talk to the principal and can get the care that's needed whether they call us as a school nurse or someone so it's not left up to the teacher in the classroom."

So why are there so few school nurses? Susan Denney, who is the president of the Utah School Nurses Association, says there is a nursing shortage. Also, low pay and budget cuts play a role.

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