Golf tournament highlights Cabarrus County school nurse program

Cuts to the county budget in June promised to reduce services provided by nurses in public schools.

But last month, the county commissioners voted to restore funding to the Cabarrus Health Alliance’s program, which helps fund a full-time nurse at each of the 43 public schools in Cabarrus County.

To ensure the future of the program, the health alliance and the Cabarrus County Medical Society Alliance will host the 10th annual golf tournament in the health alliance’s Nurse in Every School initiative. Called Swing for the Kidz, the fundraising tournament will be Oct. 13 at the Cabarrus Country Club.

Since 2005, the tournament has raised more than $265,000 to help keep a nurse in every school. Proceeds help purchase supplies and equipment for school health offices. Organizers hope the tournament raises $35,000 this year as teams, sponsors and donors celebrate the 10-year milestone.

The Kannapolis City and Cabarrus County school districts have roughly 35,000 students and 4,600 employees.

A school nurse often is one of the first people those students or staff members turn to when they have medical concerns or chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and asthma.

The county funding cuts this year would have reduced hours of all school nurses from 7.5 hours to 6.5 hours per day, leaving schools without a nurse on site during part of school hours.

That can be a crucial gap when, for example, a student suffers a life-threatening reaction and needs an immediate shot of epinephrine.

Kim Ragan, the health alliance’s school nurse supervisor for the past 11 years, has been a registered nurse for 26 years and a nationally certified school nurse since 1998.

“Everyone in our program benefits from the school nurse benefit golf tournament, because it brings attention to the work that we do,” she said. “Many people do not know the vast job requirements that school nursing involves, including nurses in other practice areas.”

A brief history

The Cabarrus County Health Department – now the Cabarrus Health Alliance – started its school nurse program in 1988 to meet the immunization needs of children, control contagious diseases in schools and reduce health-related absenteeism, Ragan said.

Back then, two nurses rotated throughout schools, serving 16,000 students, Ragan said. By 1998, a team of eight nurses provided services to three to five schools each and spent about one day per week at each school.

The number of nurses had grown to 30 in 1999, when the health alliance established its Nurse in Every School initiative.

Since then, the student population has nearly doubled and the nurse-to-student ratio has increased from 1 to 515 to 1 to 822, which exceeds the National Association of School Nurses recommendation of 1 to 750, Ragan said.

Erin Shoe, human resources and community relations director for the health alliance, said the evolution of the school health program has been an incredible journey.

“Nurses are no longer simply at schools to take temperatures and send students home,” she said. “I believe we’ll see our nurses continue to manage chronic diseases, as they have been, while continuing to be the first line of medical care for so many students.”

Nurses speak

Jaclyn Smith, 34, is a school nurse at Carl A. Furr Elementary with 14 years experience as a pediatric nurse. Her son has had type 1 diabetes since he was 2, so she understands the importance of having a trained professional on site.

“In Rowan County, it is often a secretary who is responsible for managing complex medical conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy and severe asthma,” Smith said. “At our school – 800 students – I have more than 50 emergency medications at school, three children with diabetes, a child that requires daily catheterization … two children with epilepsy and others with asthma or severe food allergies.”

Tanja Salary, a school nurse at C.C. Griffin Middle School with 13 years’ nursing experience, said school nurses can serve as a lifeline for students and staff.

“We do not just treat with Band-Aids and ice packs,” she said. “We identify health care needs that can be life-saving for a child. We also provide health care access and resources to students and their families, who may not know or have the access to health care.”

Sally Osterhout, 49, goes by “Nurse Sally” at Jay M. Robinson High School. She has been a school nurse for 15 years.

She was first hired at Central Cabarrus High School in 1999, the first year Cabarrus County placed a full-time nurse in each of its schools. She transferred to Robinson when it opened in 2001.

“I have watched this program weather a lot of storms through the years, due to funding and budget concerns,” she said. “Most people do not realize that we are not school employees.

“There have been many years when we have closed our offices in June, not knowing what hours, if any, that we would have the following school year.”