I am the mother of two perfectly healthy Charlotte-Mecklenburg students – and I am gravely concerned about a public health crisis that flies below the radar in our community.
After years of budget shortfalls and administrative turmoil, Mecklenburg County schools are sorely lacking for school nurses.
When the health officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issue a warning, we usually pay attention. When they advise us not to drink tap water after a chemical spill, we listen up. When they report that H1N1 flu is on the rise, we line up for vaccinations.
The CDC recommends a ratio of at least one school nurse for every 750 students. In Mecklenburg County, this public health standard has long been disregarded. Our current ratio is closer to one nurse for every 1,130 students. My son’s school, with nearly 1,400 students, has a nurse on duty only three days a week.
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The school nurse plays a pivotal role in keeping our children safe and healthy. Increasing numbers of children suffer from asthma, severe food allergies, diabetes, and epilepsy. Many rely on the administration of life-saving medicines every day, and their families trust – or pray – that a trained professional will be available at school in an emergency.
My children, thankfully, don’t need regular medications. They’ve also never had a playground accident resulting in a serious injury – although this has happened to their peers. I know of a child whose school nurse recognized the signs of a concussion and took immediate action. But there was also the child whose head injury occurred on a day there was no nurse at school; the well-meaning but medically untrained staff did their best in the nurse’s absence, but the concussion went unnoticed for hours.
Yet my son and daughter, along with every one of their fellow students, are affected by the lack of nurses. Teachers often administer medical care when they ought to be teaching. Front office staff must keep an eye on the school entrance, per security protocol, but too often they’re in the nurse’s office taking care of sick children.
To meet the CDC guidelines, we need 65 additional school nurses in Mecklenburg County. At the very least, we ought to staff a full-time nurse in every Charlotte-Mecklenburg school; this means 32 more nurses than we have today.
As our county’s revenue outlook brightens, we must find the funds to address this basic need.