What Happens When Every School Has a School Nurse?

August 18, 2015 | Written By:

When public school students in Toledo, Ohio, go back to school at the end of this month, there will be a school nurse in each of the district’s 40 elementary schools.

That’s because a partnership between Toledo Public Schools (TPS) and ProMedica will put a full-time school nurse in all district elementary schools for the next three years. A total of 12 new nurses will be hired, with ProMedica paying for the salaries of nine of those nurses, and TPS covering the other three.

Many of the district’s schools have had access to a nurse, but only on a part-time basis meaning that nurses often have to travel between schools, which leads to lost time and a lack of consistency, said Ann Cipriani, health services coordinator for the school district. The full-time nurses will be responsible for doing a needs assessment in their schools and developing a plan that takes into account each school’s specific needs.

This partnership is one of many across the country between health organizations and schools as our healthcare system shifts its focus from sickness and disease to wellness and prevention. Healthcare organizations are recognizing that schools can play an important role in increasing access to health services in the community, especially to low-income students of color.

ProMedica is a non-profit healthcare system that’s driven by its mission to improve health and wellbeing in the community. ProMedica recognized that health does not just take place in the doctor’s office and has been working with TPS for years to increase access to health services, reduce hunger and, with the launch of this new program, provide funding for school nurses.

These interventions are based in data. Research conducted by TPS and ProMedica found students with asthma missed 23 percent fewer school days if they attended a school with a full-time nurse, and students in buildings with full-time nurses accessed health services more often. The data points to several positive trends that TPS and ProMedica hope to see during this three-year partnership.

Barb Petee, the chief government relations and communications officer at ProMedica, said she knows a school-aged boy whose asthma got out of control because his school did not have a full-time nurse. He had to be admitted to the hospital, where he stayed for a week. Based on a pure cost comparison, funding a full-time school nurse instead of paying for a week in the hospital makes more sense — and that doesn’t even take into consideration the benefit of the child never having been sick enough to be admitted to the hospital.

That’s just one of the benefits that the program will track over the next three years. “There are a lot of different measures that we’re looking to follow over the course of the next three years,” said Petee. “We want to show that when you invest in the front line here’s what you’re able to accomplish on the back end.”

The program will also allow TPS and ProMedica to track data related to academic performance, attendance, discipline, immunization compliance and earlier intervention for serious health needs.

“The holy grail for us now is the data,” Petee said. “That’s why we’re really excited about the TPS program. In three years, we’re going to have health data about school nurses in schools; in three years, we’re hopefully going to have a sustainable funding stream for TPS.”

We applaud this fantastic partnership and can’t wait to see the results. Through our National Collaborative on Education and Health, Healthy Schools Campaign will continue to work to ensure these partnerships are supported and that the role schools can play in supporting student health and delivering more comprehensive and coordinated care is recognized.

We look forward to continuing to learn about innovative partnerships between the health and education sectors and encourage you to share any examples you are aware of in your community. Reach out to Alex Mays with any examples of innovative work and partnerships around delivering school health services.

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