Why School Nurses Are So Important—Especially in Chicago

March 04, 2016

While many students in Chicago come to school with chronic illnesses that impact their ability to learn, the majority of them do not have access to health services during the school day. This is an issue highlighted in a report released by the Chicago Teachers Union last week.

While the report looked specifically at concerns the union has with Chicago Public Schools’ current outsourcing of school nursing, it also serves as an important reminder of why school health services are so important—especially in Chicago.

Low-income students of color are disproportionately impacted by chronic health conditions, such as asthma, oral health issues and diabetes, that impact their ability to learn. For example, a survey of CPS elementary school students found 13 percent of students had asthma and that significant disparities exist, with the rates of childhood asthma exceeding 50 percent in some of Chicago’s Latino and African-American communities.

Providing students with access to school health services, including physical and mental health services, is a key component of a healthy school environment and a proven strategy for ensuring students are healthy and ready to learn.

That’s why we are working to increase access to school health services across the country by supporting implementation of the 2014 change in the free care policy. This policy change creates an opportunity for schools to seek reimbursement from Medicaid for school health services delivered by school nurses and other school health professionals. Increasing resources for school health services is an important strategy for leveraging the critical role schools can play in meeting the health needs of children.

Another opportunity for increasing access to school health services in Illinois is the transition of Illinois’ Medicaid population to managed care. Under this model, Medicaid pays health care providers a set amount per patient rather than paying per test or procedure. School health services can directly support health care providers in meeting the needs of Medicaid enrollees, reducing healthcare costs and improving the quality of care children receive. As a result, Illinois’ shift to Medicaid managed care presents an important opportunity for health care providers and schools to partner to increase access to school health services and meet children’s health needs.

We fully recognize the important role that school nurses play in supporting student health and success, especially in Chicago Public Schools. We hope our work to implement the change in the free care policy and leverage the opportunity presented by Illinois’ change to Medicaid managed care will help ensure that Chicago students have access to the comprehensive and coordinated care they need to thrive.