Six minutes was too late. Ten year old Mercedes heart had already stopped and she wasn’t breathing when the medical practitioners and nurses arrived in her school. No one in her elementary school had known CPR or the medication that could save her life, an EpiPen, was kept in the same health room where she died with her name clearly marked on the label.
Who would argue that our children’s safety and health is not paramount? Or that the health of a child greatly impacts attendance, academic achievement, future well-being and ultimately our economy? No one. Then why isn’t there a nurse in every school?
We have failed our children and fallen short of our collective moral duty to protect and nurture the next generation. Nearly twenty percent of 8th, 10th and 12th graders have doctor-diagnosed asthma in my home state of Washington. 29% of them are obese. American children are sick. For the first time in history, we have produced a generation that is sicker than their parents. Should issues escalate to a tweeted passion and media hyped frenzy before being perceived by Americans as a critical need? If nurses themselves don’t point this out, then who will?
Qualified nurses in our schools design interventions to prevent and manage physical, social and emotional distress and disease. They are trained professionals who are skilled at handling seizures, diabetes, depressionneffective coping to name only a few of the thousands of illnesses. Nurses are able to educate students on how to manage stress, eat healthy and manage acute and chronic disease. But they can’t do any of this because they are not there.
Spin the wheel! Maybe the day your child’s life depends on it, there will be a nurse in your school - or maybe not. But just don’t bet on it. Your chances are terrible. A six year old boy died of a grand mal seizure because designated staff failed to follow through on administering his medication all week in the absence of a registered nurse.
Some parents are lucky. One nurse recognized that a severe headache was actually an aneurysm, and sent that child to the emergency room after helping another student deal with the horrible grief of losing a sibling. When a student’s heart suddenly stopped for unknown reasons, another nurse performed CPR. Nurses save lives.
My state ranks 43rd in nurse-to-students ratio with a single nurse desperately trying to address the needs of 2031 students. What is yours? For many schools, the nurse has been cut out entirely, or is available only one day a week because this critical health resource has historically fallen under the education budget.
If every nurse took just one minute to call their state representatives demanding legislation, we could put a nurse in every school and dramatically impact the future health of our country.
Denying our children this critical resource at a time when they are depending on us to protect them is collective negligence.
In the absence of a health care system dedicated to improving the health of Americans rather than reacting to diseases, having a fully utilized bachelor’s prepared RN in every school would strategically place America on a trajectory to wellness, and most important of all, create an infrastructure that matches and supports what we say we value our children and our future.
As nurses, we constantly advocate for our patients. On Monday, the California Supreme Court rejected a lower court's ruling and voted unanimously to allow unlicensed school employees to administer insulin shots and other prescription medications to students. The time for action is NOW! Putting a nurse in every school is literally your call.
By Vesper Patrick
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