A little more than a week ago, while teachers were busy preparing classrooms for the first day back with students, school nurses in the University City area were outside Carolinas Medical Center-University loading boxes of bandages, thermometers and economy-size bottles of hand sanitizer into their car trunks.
For the past several years, the North Tryon Street hospital has partnered with 40 public schools in University City and Huntersville to provide free basic medical supplies including gauze, tongue depressors and ice packs.
The arrangement is essential for many public schools pinched by tight budgets.
While the push for money to employ more nurses in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is gaining ground, supplies for those nurses often run short. Relying on partnerships like those through CMC-University often can help make up the difference.
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“Usually the schools have everything they need, with a lot of community effort,” said Cathy Young-Jones, director of school health through the Mecklenburg County Health Department, the employer of school nurses. “We appreciate everything that everybody does.”
The county Health Department has an annual $25,000 budget for nursing supplies to cover the 164 schools in CMS.
The school district provides some supplies through its coordinated health program; the rest are furnished by community partnerships and faith-based groups.
CMC-University began its relationship with local schools several years ago, but this year marked the first time it invited nurses to come to the hospital to stock up before the school year began. The arrangement was made to reduce the number of orders needing to be filled throughout the year.
In the past, Mai Lee, a hospital representative who oversees requests from CMS nurses in University City and Huntersville, would travel frequently to several schools, delivering boxes of supplies.
“Sometimes I had to come every week, like during flu season or when certain illnesses are going around, like stomach bugs,” said Lee. “They would really need more gloves, and we would come through.”
The hospital plans to invite nurses back in January to restock. If they need anything before then, their requests will still be honored.
“They always get whatever they ask for,” said Lee.
Help from the community has made a difference in other areas affecting school nurses: A massive email campaign launched by N.C. Parents Advocating for School Health is partly credited with getting more nurses assigned to CMS schools this year and last.
Last year, Mecklenburg County commissioners approved funding to hire 11 additional nurses for CMS schools. For the 2014-15 school year, commissioners approved $1.8 million to hire 33 school nurses.
The total budget now provides one nurse for every 895 students. That’s fewer than federal guidelines call for but more than average for an N.C. school: Federal guidelines recommend one nurse per 750 students; the average school nurse in North Carolina typically is responsible for 1,177 students.
The county is in the process of hiring the 33 nurses. The funding is staggered, however, allowing four nurses to be added each month. Schools with more students dealing with chronic health concerns will be given priority.
Once finished hiring, CMS will have a nurse in every school.
Donnis Quinn-Braswell, a nurse supervisor for several Huntersville schools, said she is pleased to see the community advocate for school nurse issues, especially as more students require care for chronic conditions.
“Allergies are a really big issue. Asthma is second. And one of the newer chronic illnesses would be type 1 diabetes,” said Quinn-Braswell.