For many people, when they are little and do not feel well, the first person they may turn to is their mother to give them a hug and a Band-Aid and reassure them everything will be all right.
If they are a child at school, mom is not always right there and so they turn to their school nurse to provide that comfort and care.
“I don’t think the public truly understands all that the nurses in the district do for our students,” Sedalia School District 200 Superintendent Brad Pollitt said. “They have so many responsibilities and they are such a very valuable part of our schools.”
Pat Sturgiss, health services coordinator for the district, agrees with Pollitt.
“School nurses probably fill the most unique area of nursing because we are autonomous,” Sturgiss said. “Since we are the only health care providers in the building we are responsible for making all of the decisions that have to be made at that time.
“My nurses know that they can call me at any time if they have a question because there is always something different that they are required to care for, but I truly couldn’t ask for a better staff,” she added. “They like kids and care about them and that makes all the difference.”
Each building in the Sedalia District has a nurse on staff and they are responsible for attending to the daily health care needs of the students and any emergencies that may arise.
They are also responsible for the health records of each child.
Those include making sure the students’ immunization records are up to date, maintaining a yearly health history for each child and a daily clinic log recording the students who make visits to the nurse’s office and the treatment that was given.
“Last year we had 44,000 students who made a visit to see one of the school nurses,” Sturgiss said. “Those were for both emergencies and to dispense medicines and anything else that we may be asked to do.”
Sturgiss emphasized that her staff was not permitted to dispense any medication, either prescription or over the counter medications unless there are written orders from a doctor on file.
“We have very specific state guidelines that we have to follow, but we also have the board policies that we have to follow as well,” Sturgiss added.
At times, the treatment can be a simple matter.
“I remember I had a student once, who always needed to come to the nurse,” Sturgiss commented. “I would check his temperature and do all of the required checks, but I could never find any time that he was sick.
“So, I would give him a hug and a smile and send him back to class, but he still continued to come to the office,” she added with a smile. “One day I finally told him that if all he wanted was a smile and a hug he could stop by without finding a way to be ‘sick,’ and that was all it took; he came by to see me every day for that smile and hug.”
Throughout her 15 years in the district there have been times when Sturgiss or one of her staff have dealt with more difficult circumstances.
“About 12 to 15 percent of the students have a medical diagnosis and that is pretty significant when you think about it,” Sturgiss said. “There have been times when we have cared for students with feeding tubes, catheters, cancer and IV treatments.
“We do whatever we can to care for the students and we encourage them to be in school, but if they are sick we want them to stay home and get the care they need,” she added. “If a child comes to us and says they are sick we will always let them call home. That doesn’t mean they will necessarily go home but they can call.”
The school nurses consider each visit carefully but Sturgiss said they have each worked in the district and with students for a number of years and have become able to “sort out the ones who don’t want to take the math test from the ones who are really sick.”
“So many things have changed since I started working in the schools,” Sturgiss said. “I really think that the fact that the district provides free breakfast and lunch to the students in grades kindergarten through fifth has helped considerably.
“Before the program was started we would get a lot of little ones who would come in and say they had a headache or their stomach hurt,” she explained. “Now we ask them, ‘did you eat breakfast before you came? Let’s get some food in you and see how you feel.’”
There are three things Sturgiss said she encourages all parents to do to help ensure their child is in good health:
• Make sure they are getting enough sleep.
• Insist they get some kind of daily exercise.
• Make sure the child is well fed.
“We try to educate the parents so they can improve the health of their child,” Sturgiss said. “We provide flu vaccines in the fall and fluoride treatments in both the fall and spring, but we also do hearing and vision screening for the students in kindergarten, first and third grades or if one is requested at another grade by a classroom teacher.
“We know that if a child can’t see they can’t learn or if they can’t hear the same is true,” she added. “We also try to get into the classroom as well to teach the students the proper way to wash their hands or how to cover a cough.”
Because the population has changed so much in the past 10 years, according to Sturgiss, she said she also devoted a portion of her day to working with organizations such as the Pettis County Health Center and Katy Trail Community Health when students needed added medical care.
“So many of our families are on Medicaid or they have no insurance at all,” Sturgiss said. “One thing I try to do is get them established someplace where they can get treatment.
“For me helping the children is one of the main reasons I became a nurse,” Sturgiss added. “I always want them to be the best they can be.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484