Sue Buswell, MSN, RN, NCSN; Montana Director, National Association of School Nurses; Public Policy Director, Montana Association of School Nurses: 406.443.5570, Helena
Eric Feaver, President, MEA-MFT, 406.442.4250, Helena
MEA-MFT applauds Sen. Tester’s “NURSE Act” to address the shortage of school nurses
Introduction of bill coincides with National School Nurse Day, May 7
MEA-MFT, Montana’s largest labor union, today applauded Montana U.S. Senator Jon Tester for introducing a bill to increase the number of school nurses in America’s k-12 public schools.
MEA-MFT represents 18,000 Montana public employees, including school nurses.
Tester plans to introduce the Nurses for Under-Resourced Schools Everywhere Act, or “NURSE Act,” in Congress Wednesday, May 7, to coincide with National School Nurse Day. The act will provide grants to reduce the ratio of students to professional school nurses in the nation’s k-12 schools.
“For thousands of Montana children, especially those in isolated rural areas and those living in poverty, the local school nurse may be the only source of accessible health care,” said MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver.
“There’s a direct link between a child’s health and a child’s ability to learn. School nurses provide a crucial function in schools here and nationwide.”
School nurse shortage
Montana has a ratio of one registered school nurse for every 1,985 students. The recommended ratio is one RN school nurse to 750 students.* Twenty-six of Montana’s 56 counties have no school nursing services. For 98 percent of Montana students, there is no RN school nurse or too few school nurses in their county.
That’s according to a survey conducted by the Montana Association of School Nurses.
“We have a critical shortage of school nurses in Montana and other states,” said Sue Buswell, MSN, RN, NCSN. Buswell serves as public policy director of the Montana Association of School Nurses, and also as Montana director of the National Association of School Nurses. Those groups have been working for several years to address the shortage of school nurses.
“The NURSE Act is a huge step forward,” said Buswell, who worked as a school nurse in the Helena Public Schools for 15 years.
“Senator Jon Tester recognizes the evidence-based relationship between health and learning,” she said.
“The rural nature of Montana and the hardships of poverty affect access to health care services for a large percentage of school-aged children,” Buswell added.
“When children are sick and miss school, it affects their ability to learn, their chances of graduating, and their options for a good job and self-sufficiency in the future,” she said. “School nurses can bridge many of the gaps and contribute toward a healthy and productive future for every child.”
Chronic health conditions on the rise
Buswell noted that 15 to 18 percent of children and adolescents attend school while dealing with a chronic health condition.
“School nurses are seeing more chronic health conditions in our schools,” she said. “Type 1 diabetes, food allergies, asthma, epilepsy, neurological conditions, and mental health issues are much more prevalent among school-aged children in 2014 than in the past.”
When a school has no registered nurse, the burden of administering medications and treatments falls on untrained staff or administrators, Buswell said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes the crucial role of school nurses in providing health services to children and youth. School nurses promote wellness and disease prevention, along with early intervention services such as periodic testing for vision, hearing, and dental problems.
“The NURSE Act is all about keeping children healthy and removing barriers to learning,” said Feaver. “It will improve children’s health and community health in Montana and nationally. We’re grateful to Senator Tester for his leadership on this issue.”
* The national standard of 1 school nurse to 750 students is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of School Nurses, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the American Nurses Association.
MEA-MFT represents more than 18,000 k-12 teachers and school support staff, Head Start employees, state and county employees, university faculty, and health care providers working in communities all across Montana. MEA-MFT is a merged affiliate of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers and is the largest affiliate of the Montana State AFL-CIO.