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Monday, January 30, 2006

Shortage of school nurses a national epidemic

A series of student deaths and medical traumas have been attributed to the shortage of nurses in America’s public schools.

USA Today reports that 2004 census data shows roughly 56,000 student nurses work full-time in U.S. schools, one for every 950 students, which fails to meet the federal guideline of one for every 750. As a result, thousands of children with asthma, attention-deficit disorder, food allergies and other health problems rely on secretaries and other school personnel, who are frequently unqualified.

The lack of school nurses also contributes to medication errors, including one in California that led to the death of a student who wasn’t given the proper dosage.

Parents in Utah, where the nurse-to-student ratio is the worst in the country, have filed a petition seeking state funding for more nurses. But most states refuse to mandate the hiring of nurses and leave the decisions up to local school districts, which struggle to find the money. “I don’t like going without a school nurse,” says Scott Johnson, a district administrator in Wisconsin. “But I don’t like cutting a teacher, either.”

Almost half of schools nationally – 47 percent – fall short of the federally recommended nurse to student ratio, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.