Students who go to the clinic at Ruth K. Broad K-8 in Bay Harbor Islands won’t find a nurse to treat their bumps, scrapes or tummy aches.
Instead, the doling out of band-aids and the tear-wiping falls to a trained secretary — as is the case in many local schools.
With a school-nurse shortage in Florida — the state ranks 48th in nurse-to-student ratio, according to the National Association of School Nurses — some local cities are dipping into their own budgets to provide health services for their students.
Along with Miami Beach, the cities of Surfside, Bal Harbour Bay Harbor and North Bay Village all recently agreed to pay part of the salary of a school nurse — about $65,000 a year. The Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce pitched in, contributing $90,000 in grants the chamber was awarded through the Health Foundation of South Florida and the insurance provider Aetna.
The initiative was spearheaded by the Beach’s Committee for Quality Education after members realized that three of the eight schools in Miami Beach’s feeder pattern lacked a school nurse. A feeder pattern school is one whose students eventually attend a school in Miami Beach as they progress through middle and high school.
“We want all of our children to have equal access,” said Leslie Rosenfeld, Miami Beach’s education liaison to the city manager. “This will enable us to enhance the services provided and really allow our families that are struggling to have access to a registered nurse at arms length.”
Throughout the county, 157 schools have a “health suite”— a central place where a team of medical professionals and a social worker treat students. The suites are provided in partnership with the Florida Department of Health, the Children’s Trust and Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
The hope is to provide similar services to Miami Beach feeder pattern schools that don’t have these suites: North Beach Elementary, Treasure Island Elementary and Ruth K. Broad Bay Harbor K-8 Center. Using the money scraped together by the affected municipalities, the goal is to fund a nurse who would travel from school to school, but there would always be a medical assistant or other health professional on-site, explained Ruth K. Broad Principal Maria Rodriguez.
“We would have immediate care,” Rodriguez said.
In schools without health suites, the county provides a nurse who travels daily to different schools serving the neediest of students, making sure that paperwork is in order, and ensuring that staffers dealing with medical needs are properly trained, county schools spokesman John Schuster explained in an email.
That leaves school administrators to deal with day-to-day needs, like checking for lice and dispensing daily medications.
Linda Davis-Alldritt, president of the National Association of School Nurses, said that relying on anyone other than a licensed medical professional for these needs can have serious consequences.
She cited studies that show that registered nurses are less likely to make a mistake when giving medication, and said students who are examined by a nurse are less likely to be sent home for minor issues like a headache — meaning the child spends more time in class learning.
“It’s the physical assessment of the child that takes a significant amount of training. That’s why registered nurses go to school for as long as they do,” Davis-Alldritt said. “For safety, for health, it’s best to have a school nurse in the schools.”
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