Support children's health with school nurse programs

June 1, 2012

Support school nurses who can improve kids' health.

IOM identified one out of three children as having a weight problem. Of course, the weight issue itself is just the tip of the iceberg. Diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and other chronic conditions often come as part of the package.

For children's health advocates, it's relatively easy to gain support for legislation to regulate school lunches, vending machines and physical education programs because those mandates sound like such good ideas. Who wouldn't want to add more vegetables to the cafeteria menu? What's become more difficult is to find a practical funding mechanism for all the great ideas that are supposed to make our kids healthier.

REACH MORE KIDS

One great idea that receives little attention is the case for providing adequate school nurse programs. Far too many schools lack regular access to a school nurse because tight budgets simply won't allow it. As more and more students are diagnosed with chronic health issues, the need for nurses during the school day is only increasing.

Considering the rise in chronic conditions, the country's 73,000 school nurses must do far more these days than bandage up playground cuts and scrapes, according to the National Association of School Nurses. Among schoolchildren: 32% are obese or overweight; 13% take a prescription drug; 10% have asthma; 5% have food allergies; 5% have seizures; and many more have other daily health issues.

Nursing care can be critical for the diabetic child who suddenly feels faint in math class or the child with food allergies who suddenly can't breathe. While teachers and staff are typically trained to call 9-1-1 for emergencies, they aren't equipped to provide immediate care.

FUNDING SCHOOL NURSES

Unfortunately, funding for nursing resources often comes from local school districts and state budgets, which are clearly struggling today. From 1999 to 2009, 38 states found a way to increase the number of school nurses, so that's good news.

Vermont has the best student-to-nurse ratio with one nurse for every 396 kids. In Michigan-the state with the leanest program-each school nurse is responsible for 4,411 students.

Here is a perfect opportunity for health plans and their case managers to get active. No doubt the school nurse would appreciate and welcome the support of your data-driven information and best practices.

If you want to evolve from being an old-school insurer to being a "health company," here's your chance. Why not get your telemedicine program installed in a school clinic and connect kids and caregivers during the school day?

If health plans are willing to fund embedded nurses in primary care practices, then the school setting should also be considered as a site where a little high-touch care could go a long way.

Julie Miller is editor-in-chief of MANAGED HEALTHCARE EXECUTIVE. She can be reached at julie.miller@advanstar.com