The past two decades have seen a large increase in the number of children in school who have complex health problems.
Improved medical technology is allowing children who would not have survived infancy in the past to survive and enter the school system. Also, the incidence of food allergies has been steadily increasing and the obesity epidemic has led to a large number of children with related health problems such as diabetes and depression.
Chronic disorders that may not have been diagnosed in the past, such as attention deficit disorder, are now being diagnosed, further increasing the percentage of students with significant health problems. At the same time school budgets have been shrinking in most states, resulting in fewer healthcare offerings and a reduced nursing staff.
All of this has led to a need for schools to provide better and more extensive health care. A potential solution that is being explored is the creation of fully fledged medical clinics run by qualified school nurses or, in some cases, by doctors. Many of these new school-based health centres are opening in rural and urban communities that have high poverty rates and populations with less access to health care.
These health centres are the only source of health care for many kids in these communities. The Clinics are usually staffed by paediatricians and nurse practitioners who can bill services to Medicaid and private insurance. The clinics are equipped to diagnose illness, prescribe medications and give preventive care. Some also provide dental care.
School-based health centres have nearly doubled in number in the last decat to about 2,000, though some have closed because of lack of funding. The Obama administration’s new health law appropriated $200 million through 2013 to maintain these centres and to build new ones. In addition to government funding and insurance reimbursements clinics can obtain funding from private sources. Some clinics are run by non-profit hospital systems. However, the clinics do not eliminate the need for school nurses.
The nurses are crucial because they can handle more minor health problems along with administering medication so that they keep the clinics from becoming clogged up. Nurses can handle the initial patient intake. But now, instead of having to send kids home or to the emergency room, they can be sent to the clinics in case of more serious illness.
This has led to significant reductions in emergency room visits, which is a major goal of the non-profit hospital systems that manage some of the clinics. The clinics have also led to an increase in school attendance.
Serge Kozak is the founder of edictive.com and writes on a number of commercial blogs. In his spare time he loves a little retail therapy shopping for himself or gifts for others that are dear to him.