School Nurse Shortages and More Diabetic Kids

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I just saw an article in USA Today about how the school nurse shortage is affecting kids with diabetes and it made me very grateful, as I always am, that I wasn’t diagnosed with this disease till I was 22. Not only did that mean that I got to live a normal, carb-filled childhood (no crappy Halloweens for this girl!), but my parents didn’t have to worry about my blood sugar. Now in my own prime child-bearing years, I am terrified about the prospect of having a kid with type 1 — pricking tiny fingers, waking up in the middle of the night worried that they’re okay, and  sending them off to a day at school when they’re too young to really know how to take care of themselves. It sounds horribly frightening and difficult — to all those parents of Type 1 kids out there, kudos to you. Talk about unsung heroes.

I bring this up because of this article, which points out that there is an extreme shortage of public school nurses — according USA Today, 30 percent of schools only have a part-time nurse, and 25 percent have no nurse at all. While some schools are figuring out ways to take care of diabetic students — which the federal Americans With Disabilities Act requires them to do — others aren’t doing such a great job. Consider this story:

Christopher Rodriguez should have started kindergarten last year at PS 28 in the Bronx, but he’s starting a year late.

When his mother, Marileida Rojas, tried to enroll him in 2008, she was told Mount Hope Elementary School did not have the resources to care for Christopher, who has type 1 diabetes and was too young to recognize when his blood sugar was slipping dangerously low.

Though Rojas said she’d quit her job and come help, the administration suggested she send her son to another school that could better serve his needs.

Rojas’ son now attends PS 28, but it has taken lengthy negotiations with a system that doesn’t speak her language and quitting her job to get her son into his neighborhood school, she says through a translator.

It reminds me of the fiasco last year when a California judge sided with the California School Nurses Organization, the American Nurses Association, the California Nurses Association and other nursing groups to require diabetic students to only receive insulin shots from school nurses — making it against the rules for other trained adults (like homeroom teachers) to administer shots. Man, did that make me mad — at that point, there were 2800 school nurses for California’s 9800 public schools, which meant that parents were having to curtail their kids’ activities or actually take time off from their own jobs to come test their children’s blood sugars and give them shots.

Both these stories make a common point: as the number of kids with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes continues to grow, we have to do a better job of figuring out how to care for them — allowing them the responsibility to take care of themselves when they’re old enough to do so, and, in the meantime, changing the system so that having diabetes as a child doesn’t affect your education.

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James Ron

Thanks for this post; you are right, it’s a huge problem. In Canada, where we lived for 10 years, it’s even worse, as there are no school nurses any more. Or rather, there is one nurse for multiple schools, and s/he fulfills a very different role; administration and education, rather than actual care. Teachers refuse to have anything to do with diabetes, so parents are really stuck. Things in the US are better, but as this article suggests, the availability of care is uneven, with massive gaps. It must be all the more difficult for parents with fewer resources, language… Read more »

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