School Health: An Important Part of A Health Prevention Strategy

August 05, 2009

By Amanda Chablani

While much of the debate about health care reform centers on a government-funded public health insurance option, I am encouraged to see that the President’s plan includes a strong focus on prevention. I also urge our political leaders to recognize the fundamental role that schools can and should play in health care reform.

As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post notes, prevention must be an essential part of our newer, better health care system; as he points out, “we won't be able to avoid the fiscal crisis being driven by health-care costs simply by changing the health-care system.” Recognizing the mostly unseen role that schools play in the delivery of health care is an important part of a national health promotion strategy.

We want to make sure that any health care reform bill recognizes and supports school health. For example, if schools had an appropriate ratio of school nurses to students (the National Association of School Nurses recommends 1 school nurses for 750 students), school nurses would be able to play an active role in managing chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes, both at all-time high rates among children, and work with school officials to make sure that the school environment is healthy and safe. This could greatly reduce emergency room visits and absenteeism.

To this end, Rep. George Miller, Chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, has added language from the  Student-to-School Nurse Ratio Improvement Act (H.R. 2730) to the House health care bill (H.R. 3200) that will provide competitive grants to schools to reduce the student-to-school nurse ratio. After two years, the Secretary of Education will report on the effectiveness of the program in improving the student-to-school nurse ratio as well as on the impact to student learning.

Additionally, we would like to see that the prevention strategies that are currently included in the President’s plan explicitly include schools. For example, the Task Force on Community Health, which is responsible for offering recommendations on community intervention services to address health disparities, should have a school health expert. Also, the Community Prevention and Wellness Services Grants should be made explicitly available to schools.

We’re proud that legislators are seizing this opportunity to address not only the provision of health services, but the prevention of chronic and disabling diseases. We urge our government to recognize the fundamental role schools can and should play in this process.