A program to put more school nurses in Milwaukee Public Schools is paying off in better health care management for children and families, according to an evaluation done by the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee’s Institute for Urban Health Partnerships.
In 2006, MPS allocated Title I funds to hire school nurses for eligible schools to expand its Coordinated School Health Program, a model supported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC recommends a ratio of one school nurse for every 750 students. When the program started, Milwaukee Public Schools had a ratio of one nurse for every 8,500 students, according to M. Kathleen Murphy, Health Services Coordinator for MPS.
Almost 80 percent of children who attend MPS live in families at or below the poverty level, according to MPS administration figures, so almost all MPS schools qualified for the federal program. Funding was also used in the first two years of the program to evaluate the effectiveness of the nurses in the program schools.
“We learned that MPS nurses clearly understand the links between health and learning and the role nurses play in promoting the academic mission of their schools,” says Mary Jo Baisch, assistant professor of nursing at UWM and lead evaluator for the report on the Coordinated School Health Program.
The evaluation, based on the first two years of the program, showed that MPS school nurses helped cut down on school/class absences, improved the rates of immunization in schools and ensured that emergency records were up to date. School nurses also identified and referred 1,400 students for eye exams, provided 700 health education/training classes, helped place an additional 161 automated external defibrillators in schools and trained emergency cardiac response teams in 153 schools.
Baisch found that the school nurses play an important role in building links between schools and parents and guardians with children in their schools. Many students in MPS have chronic health conditions that, when untreated, keep them from their classrooms. Asthma, for example, is a common problem among MPS students, and one that needs coordinated, ongoing care, according to MPS officials. School nurses helped both students and parents manage these conditions so that students could more regularly attend school.
Health care kids can count on
Surveys conducted as part of the evaluation showed that school staff members were highly satisfied with the school nurses. Data from the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health show that school nurses are often the first and only consistent source of health services for uninsured and underinsured children.
MPS works with a number of partners who help provide nurses to the schools, including Aurora Health Care, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Froedtert (Hospital, the Milwaukee Health Department. and the Governor’s Office provide special funding. UWM’s College of Nursing provides primary care health services to children and families through its Silver Spring Community Nursing Center. While the ratio of school nurses to students still does not meet national recommendations, it has improved dramatically, according to MPS.
The evaluation’s findings were presented to the Milwaukee Board of School in May. Overall, the MPS nurse-student ratio has improved dramatically, says MPS’s Murphy. This fall, if all positions are filled, only 15 schools will be without nursing services.