Nursing Schools Back to Health

September 05, 2017

School nurses are more than just the caring providers of cold compresses and a cot to rest on when students are not feeling great. These healthcare workers are also critical players in the fight to improve indoor environmental conditions in Massachusetts’ crumbling schools.
School nurses are essential staff given 12.4% of students in grades K-8 have asthma, and 27% of students have special health conditions. And like any proficient healthcare provider, they know that prevention is a key strategy to keeping students and school staff healthy and well.
For years, MassCOSH has worked with school nurses, Health Resources in Action, Massachusetts Asthma Advocacy Partnership, and other coalitions to implement common sense practices that greatly improve the indoor air quality in our public schools. These include leading Environmental/Wellness Teams in Boston schools to identify unhealthy environmental conditions and implementing policies that remove and prevent these hazards from forming. They also ensure that schools only use green cleaning products included on the Safer Cleaning Products list established by the Massachusetts Operational Services Division, preventing dangerous and toxic cleaners from triggering asthma attacks and causing other health problems.
Time and time again, it’s been school nurses who have been leading these initiatives in many schools across the Commonwealth. Yet, availability of qualified professional nurses throughout the school day varies according to school district and district budgets. Most of the Commonwealth’s large cities do not meet the Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of a minimum of one full-time professional school nurse per building. This means that although schools may be committed to improving indoor air conditions, they may not have the money to pay staff to lead these efforts.
That is why MassCOSH is supporting An Act Authorizing the Establishment of a Commission to Evaluate Student Health. The bill would establish a Commission of School Nursing to recommend standards for staffing of nurses at schools and document the need for these valuable professionals.
Currently, Municipal Medicaid reimburses Massachusetts cities and towns more than $100 million annually for direct care services to children, outreach to families and coordination of care.  If the bill becomes law, the state’s Medicaid contract would be able to expand its billing Medicaid to enhance their school nursing services, and MassCOSH will push for efforts around indoor air quality improvements to be considered official billable activities.
“Studies have proven that students learn better in clean and healthy school environments, and there is no doubt that school staff benefits from better air quality as well,” says Tolle Graham, MassCOSH’s Healthy Schools Coordinator. “We will work hard to push the passage of this bill so that students and staff have the learning and workplaces they deserve.”