LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- There’s been much debate in the State Legislature over the years about the need for school nurses in Arkansas.
A bill, which would require a school nurse in every Arkansas school has failed twice. Still, many say the value of a school nurse is not something that should be sold short.
Tight budgets have forced a lot of school districts to make painful cuts in recent years. Many of those cutes were to school nurses. One local district says, their help is something they can't afford to do without. Meet Nurse Kim.
"I wanted to be a school nurse because I've always had a love for pediatrics," said Kim Burri.
Unlike the school nurses of old, Burri is responsible for prescribing a lot more than just band aids to the students at Crystal Hill Elementary.
"We cover not only medications, but allergies, asthma, psychiatric needs. We have children that have serious social issues that need to be dealt with daily in the school setting, not only with a nurse but with the counselor. It's a team effort,” the Registered Nurse said.
PCSSD has a nurse in each of its schools, thanks in large part to Superintendent, Dr. Jerry Guess.
"We have a great need for nurses. we've got a large number of kids with all sorts of problems,” explained the administrator.
More than 200,000 Americans under 20 have diabetes, 8% of children have food allergies, and more than 11% have ADHD.
"We have many more diagnoses now, that we didn't see 20 years ago,” said Burri.
PCSSD's nurses also keep track of immunizations. That’s one reason, they said, they've been able to keep the mumps and flu epidemics out of their schools.
"We monitor immunizations, we monitor the kids day to day for different symptoms, so we can be on top of them immediately. And get them the care that they need and also protect our other students,” Burri said.
In the hour and a half or so that we were in Nurse Kim's office, she saw around 20 kids. According to the PCSSD Annual Report for the 2015-2016 school year, nurses gave 2,300 asthma treatments, 5,700 insulin injections, and 9,500 vision screenings. 80 students were treated for 911 emergencies. And it doesn't stop there. The district's special education students have more specialized needs.
"We have students here that have tube feedings, cauterizations, trach care; they have tracheostomies, they may have a colostomy and need ostomy care, at times, we are doing the same things they're doing in the hospitals," said Burri.
The district's nurses had nearly 124,000 total visits last year. For districts not lucky enough to have a nurse in each school, those responsibilities are often delegated to a staff member.
"Though they may have some training from a nurse that may be on another campus, or nurses have to travel across several campuses during the day. So, they really can't get to know the students as can when we are on a 1:1 situation where there's a nurse available every day,” Burri said, offering that as a reason for an RN in every American school.
Dr. Guess, who’s had to make tough budget choices in the past, said school nurses are not up for consideration in his district.
"To be present in a building to help a child that might get stung by a bee, or that might be injured in a fall, or that might have a medical concern, there's no way to value that. It's absolutely beyond a value and critical that we provide those services,” he said.
Though the bill, which would have required an RN for each school only got 16 yes votes from the legislature, Representative Mayberry said he won't stop trying to get nurses in Arkansas schools.
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