Nurses network to stay informed

(York Daily Record) Head lice, asthma and cancer.

Those are just a few of the health barriers that can interfere with a child’s ability to learn.

As the first responder in charge of up to 1,500 kids, a certified school nurse’s role is essential in catching health problems and preventing the spread of disease.

The job’s not easy.

“In a lot of ways, we work in isolation … To be successful, a school nurse needs to be able to work independently,” said Susan Kirkpatrick, certified school nurse at South Eastern Middle School West. A certified designation means a nurse has undergone specialized training. “We don’t necessarily have any other health professionals around.”

The Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses And Practitioners, and the York County School Nurse Association — independent of the state group — help connect nurses and allow them to share information.

Roughly 30 local school nurses attend meetings held by the county organization, said Kirkpatrick, a school nurse for 25 years. “I don’t know how other (school) nurses practice without it,” Kirkpatrick said of the organizations. “On the state level, we work to influence legislation, guidelines for care … make sure people have the best access to care.”

Back at their individual districts, the nurses face a variety of challenges.

“We are seeing more and more chronic diseases,” Kirkpatrick said of illnesses including type 1 diabetes, asthma and food allergies. “They require close management at school.

Not many private schools have their own school nurse, Kirkpatrick said. In many cases, a school nurse must ensure that students who live in their district meet state health requirements. School nurses also act as consultants for health issues, including diabetes and asthma.

Other problems include obtaining student medical files, said Springettsbury Township resident Cheryl Sue Mattern, a nurse at Central York School District and past president of Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses And Practitioners.

“We have trouble with getting immunization records,” she said and added that physicians offices sometimes don’t realize the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act doesn’t apply to school nurses.

When diseases start to spread, it’s important to know whether a student’s vaccinations are up to date, said Susan Combs, a nurse at Lincoln Intermediate Unit No. 12’s Yorkshire Academy in North York.

“If we have an outbreak, we’ll have records,” she said.

Overall, a school nurse needs to be “a generalist,” Kirkpatrick said.

“You’re treating the kids … you also are helping out staff and faculty,” she said. “You’re treating (individuals) but are responsible for the health of the entire school community.”