Missouri’s school nurses are playing key roles during this COVID-19 day and age. The state has about 1600 school nurses among Missouri’s more than 500 K-12 public school districts.
Linda Neumann, director of the Missouri Association of School Nurses, tells Missourinet school nurses have been going above and beyond the call of duty during the pandemic.
“It’s amazing how many of them volunteered to help coordinate the food deliveries, make porch visits so their kiddos with known high-risks or with social emotional needs had contact with their school nurse, and making phone calls to parents or grandparents to see what supports they needed,” she says.
They have spent countless hours collaborating with public health agencies and healthcare experts learning about the novel virus. Additionally, Neumann says school nurses must do coronavirus antigen testing within schools if their school decides to do testing. About 46 Missouri school districts do not have access to a school nurse.
She says the number of students living with mental health conditions have been “off the charts” for years and she expects the problems to increase due to the coronavirus, along with substance misuse among youth.
“There’s just so much that is going on with our kids in Missouri – it’s not just COVID-19. But COVID-19 has really added to the complexity of children growing up everywhere. When you lose someone to a pandemic and in some cases there are children that have lost multiple family members, this has just added to it all. And then our kids with social emotional disorders, to take their routines and turn them upside down has been really tough on them,” says Neumann.
According to Neumann, kids being diagnosed with ADHD, post-traumatic stress syndrome, food allergies, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression have climbed over the years.
Neumann says school nurses have been highly encouraging families to get their flu vaccinations this year.
“That’s the last thing you want is to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time,” she says. “And you can very well get those viruses at the same time. Flu vaccines are so important, especially for our kiddos with chronic health conditions, especially for those kids that have asthma. It’s just imperative that they get their flu vaccine as soon as they can,” says Neumann.
She says fewer students visited a doctor over the summer to get their immunizations.
“I think a lot of that was fear of going to a pediatrician’s office. They have all their safety measures in place. They need to see those kids. Just because we are worried about COVID-19, doesn’t mean that we can’t have outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough). We don’t want another run of the mumps or measles,” she says.
Education leaders have talked about the benefits of having students in school, including for their cognitive development, social and emotional needs, nutrition, among other things. Neumann says many students also get their primary healthcare from school. The school nurses serve as the bridge between health and education.
“We help meet those unmet health needs. We asses the children. We come up with interventions. We find resources for the kids. We are the eyes on the children,” says Neumann. “We have kids in school that are on respirators. We have kids in school that need tube feedings, that need catheters during the day. We help manage the kids that have Type 1 diabetes. We do a lot of health education, especially for kids who are newly-diagnosed with a food allergy, or newly-diagnosed with asthma or a seizure disorder or whatever it may be. We can provide education for not only the student and the parent, but making sure that our staff understands at least the basics of what that diagnosis is and knowing what to do in case of an emergency.”
State data shows about 112,000 K-12 public school students have a chronic health condition.
Nuemann says parents are busy and trying to make ends meet.
“We have parents that are single parents and they are working two jobs,” she says. “They are doing the best they can to raise their child. They don’t have time to take off to take their kids to the doctor. So, we try to fill the gaps.”
Molly Ticknor is the executive director of the Show-Me School-Based Health Alliance of Missouri, an organization supporting school-based health program sustainability and continued growth. The Missouri School Boards’ Association is the financial sponsor of the alliance and it also provides the alliance with administrative and financial management backbone support.
According to Ticknor, about 520,000 public and charter school students have access to at least one type of an external school-based health program in Missouri. The program could be focused on physical health, mental health, dental health or telehealth-based.
Ticknor says 79 Missouri counties have access to a school-based health service. There are regions of the state without access to such programs, especially some counties in northwest and southeast Missouri.
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