U.S. Faces A Crisis As School Nurse Shortage Puts Kids’ Lives At Risk

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Image via CBS News

Only three out of five schools employ school nurses — and children and their families are suffering because of it

The United States is experiencing a shortage of school nurses across the country, with only three out of five schools overall employing full-time school nurses. Many schools resort to forcing school administrators — who have no medical training — to step in and provide care to students in need.

USA Today reports that a quarter of all young children are suffering from some kind of chronic illness, like asthma and diabetes. With diseases like measles and other diseases that were once largely eliminated on the rise due to the anti-vaccination community, children are in need of school nurses now more than ever. And yet they’re incredibly hard to find — only 40% of schools across the country budget for a part-time school nurse, and 25% have no nurse on staff at all.

For many of these school districts, “school-based health centers” run by local hospitals are used as a solution to the shortage. As of 2013, there were over 2,315 of these clinics in operation, according to the School-Based Health Alliance. The problem with centers like this is that, unlike a simple visit to the school nurse, visits cost money — either out-of-pocket or through insurance.

CBS News reports that multiple children have died throughout the past several years as a result of facing medical emergencies while in school when no nurse was on duty. If that doesn’t constitute the shortage as a crisis, nothing does. Last fall, Hasoun Pressley, a 9-year-old boy with a heart condition, collapsed in the cafeteria of his school. He was rushed to the local hospital where he was later pronounced dead due to heart failure.

“They failed him all ways. Like they wasn’t there to help him,” his mother, Rasheen Pressley, tells CBS News. “He was my only son. … there weren’t nobody there to help him. Nothing.” There was, predictably, no school nurse on duty at Hasoun’s school that day. A district official says a staff member who was certified in CPR tried to revive him, to no avail. While no one can say for certain whether the presence of a school nurse could have saved the boy’s life, it’s critical that schools employ nurses.

There are no federal laws regulating school nurse staffing, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least one registered nurse in every school. Schools nationwide are in dire need of nurses and mental health professionals — for students of all ages, including teenagers.

Donna Mazyck, the executive director of the National Association of School Nurses, called the issue a “crisis.” She blames budget cuts for the shortage, which she feels unnecessarily burdens existing nurses and puts students at risk. “If you have a workload that doesn’t enable you to care for the students in a way that you need, it’s like drinking water from a fire hose,” Mazyck tells CBS News.

With Type I and Type II diabetes on the rise in young children, and with allergic reactions on the rise, having a school nurse on hand is more critical than ever. They’re able to administer the correct dosages of insulin and other medications (like epinephrine) properly, without that burden falling to the kids themselves while they’re in school.

To combat this nationwide crisis in schools, a bill is set to be introduced in Washington next month. The “Nurse Act” would provide grants to under-resourced schools so they can hire nurses.