By Christine Simon-Waterman
The writer is president of the Maryland Nurses Association.
Almost everyone remembers being in the school nurse’s office when growing up. School nurses were there to tend to the scrapes, stomach aches, and minor illnesses that are just part of childhood.
But policymakers know that school nurses do much more than that. School nurses are the backbone of the health care services that ensure students can stay in school and learn. When the Maryland General Assembly passed the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, funding was designated for health services with the highest priority placed on supporting more full-time school nurses in high-poverty schools.
The Maryland Nurses Association is concerned by recent reports that the Baltimore City Public Schools is not expanding its number of full-time school nurses with its Blueprint funding, and this problem could potentially be occurring in other jurisdictions. Students everywhere are increasingly facing health crises. One-fourth of children have a chronic disease, and the numbers are rising. More students are grappling with behavioral health challenges.
Between 2007 and 2018, youth suicide deaths rose by 21% in Maryland. Now in the aftermath of the pandemic, children are facing even greater risk for all types of health risks, which will compromise their ability to learn and thrive in school.
This past session, the Maryland Nurses Association supported legislation (HB 1004/SB 856) which would have ensured there would be a nurse in every school. And that goal was just a starting point.
Many schools need more than one nurse if the school is large or has a student body with a high rate of chronic diseases and other illnesses. The bill did not move forward, but it raised the visibility of the school nursing shortage.
Our hope is that the Blueprint funding for school health will be utilized for its intended purpose of keeping students healthy. The funding is there to make real progress. As a state, we collectively can work together to support the implementation of the school health funding in every jurisdiction. The school nurse’s office should never be empty for any student, particularly for those living in communities facing the challenges created by poverty.