High nurse-to-student ratio in Guilford County

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- They work in the background, but school nurses play an important role at schools.

"We know a child is not going to learn if they are not sitting in their classroom seat and healthy as possible," Guilford County Department of Health School Nurse Supervisor Susan Hawks said. "So that's what we do."

In order to remain dedicated to the mission, the public health school nurse program has grown from 33 to 37. This brings the nurse-to-student ratio to one nurse for every 1,975 students. That's over the state recommended one to 750 student ratio. But according to a state report, most school systems in the state are over the ideal ratio because of funding and more students with chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes are now enrolled in schools. Hawks is seeing the same trends in Guilford County.

"In the past we didn't have so many students coming into our buildings with chronic conditions," Hawks said. "But now we have to do everything we can to help those kids be able to access the educational setting."

Guilford County Department of Health school nurses manage over 8,000 care plans. School nurses also perform vision screening and teach health classes.

"We do what we can and go into classrooms and do health promotions about hand washing and how to prevent the spread of germs," Hawks said. "We love to do more of that for our students."

On average, each school nurse sees a Guilford County Schools student every 20 minutes. The school nurses are able to handle their caseloads by relying on their partnership with the Guilford County Department of Health.

"We are able to partner with other programs within the agency," Hawks said. "With the fl,u we work with our infectious disease nurses with any reported outbreaks."

To address high school nurse-to-student ratios across the state, the General Assembly Program Evaluation Division suggest state agencies should work together to update the current one school nurse to every 750 student ratio. Also the division wants state agencies to examine current funding programs. Any proposals should be submitted to legislative oversight committees.