Where Have the School Nurses Gone?

The few school nurses we have in Flathead County schools are facing enormous odds and challenges

By Maria Arrington

Ever think about the things that happen to our kids’ health once we drop them off at school for the day? It used to be that we figured school health would be handled by our school nurses, but that is a dead or dying belief. The few school nurses we have are so swamped by their responsibilities in the face of budget priorities and funding deficits that it would be impossible to say we have our children’s health needs on the radar at all.

I want to give a few real life examples. One student is an unstable diabetic with a single mom who is the only breadwinner in the family. Last year, the school had no school nurse available to help with blood sugar testing and insulin injections. The child missed three months of school because he/she needed to stay home with mom (who was missing work) to monitor the blood sugar status. This year, the school hired a school nurse and that child has missed only three days of school – and mom is working to support the family.

Think about another student who had a cardiac arrest at school. Luckily this school had a nurse present and she immediately instituted CPR. That child is alive today because that school had a nurse. What would have happened if the nurse was busy at another school or if there was no nurse at all? Not every teacher or school staff member knows or is good at CPR.

I have heard of families who have changed school districts in order to have their child in a school where there was a school nurse to help with their child’s health problems.

The few school nurses we have in Flathead County schools are facing enormous odds and challenges. There is only one nurse to be shared out between our two Kalispell high schools. These two schools have more than 1,200 student each and that nurse is hired to work only two days a week – one day at each school. On those two days she sees up to 10 kids a day in addition to trying to handle all the paperwork mandated by the school district and the state department of health and human services. We have homeless kids, disabled kids, asthmatics and diabetics in that population as well as in all our school populations!

I could go on and on about the statistics that are present in our schools this very minute, but how did we get to this place? Budget shortages and funding deficits have forced school districts to make harder and harder decisions year by year. Parents don’t realize how far health resources have deteriorated in the schools or they feel that this problem is bigger than one complaining parent can handle. To me, this is an indication that we value our children less than we value other aspects of school spending.

Maria Arrington is a retired public health nurse in Bigfork

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