A school nurse in every school? Yes, please!
A typical day for Metro Public Health Department school nurse Jennifer Putnam consists of arriving at a school a half hour before children arrive, managing health plans, and meeting with diabetic students to administer insulin and check blood sugar levels. She's been a school nurse for two years.
School nurses are on the front line for many of the chronic diseases and problems children cope with everyday. Beyond treating minor cuts and bruises, school nurses also provide a connection to students who may have behavioral, emotional or mental health issues, becoming a confidant to students struggling with puberty or who may be at risk for abuse, homelessness or other distressing situations.
In one school year alone, Metro school nurses have more than 40,000 office visits with children and administer nearly 80,000 procedures that help kids stay in school.
"We've got a lot of children in Metro where I may be the only health care provider they will see in a given month or school year," - Jennifer Putnam, school nurse.
"We know in Metro we have a lot of children who have chronic illnesses of some sort - asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, sickle cell, diabetes, seizures - and don't have sufficient access to a primary care doctor," Putnam said. "Those children are really caught in a middle ground where school nurses can bridge that gap for them. I can most effectively do that when I'm in a building. I get to be part of a frontline response."
The Metro Public Health Department, in partnership with Metro Schools' Support Services Office, has a proposal before Mayor Megan Barry and Metro Council that would build up a capacity of full-time nurses in every Metro School within a four-year period.
"Student health, both physical and mental, can present big barriers to academic success," said Dr. Tony Majors, chief support services officer for Metro Schools. "We need to take every opportunity we can to eliminate student health disparities and barriers while maximizing the time students spend learning in the classroom."
"There are so many components to supporting the student and moving them forward to the ultimate goal of student success and graduation," said Lisa Nistler, director of school health for the Metro Public Health Department. "The nurse is one component of helping everyone - parents, social workers, guidance counselors - and being one more resource students can have."
To be more of a resource for students means that school nurses like Putnam need to spend more time in schools and physically be present and available. Right now, school nurses like Putnam spend a significant chunk of time traveling between three to four schools a day, losing precious minutes or hours that could be spent with students in school communities.
Providing a full-time school nurse is a major investment that supports keeping children healthy and ready to learn. That would mean nurses like Putnam could do BMI checks, preventative screenings - tasks that can make a big difference in the long term for students. Instead, these services have to be put aside to focus on managing a caseload of chronically ill children who may need skilled nursing - tube feeding, care and assessment of airways and insulin administration - and writing health plans for them.
"We know it's a big ask, but it would really make a difference in the lives of our students and staff," said Majors.
Learn more about the Metro Public Health Department's School Health program by clicking here or viewing below:
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