Writing about food allergies from a pediatric allergist's perspective

School Nurse Advocacy Success!

AllergyHome is proud to introduce a true school health hero, Teri Saurer.  Teri started N.C. Parents Advocating for School Health and in 2 years they helped obtain 44 additional school nurse positions in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. They now have one nurse per school. Thank you Teri for joining us.  Thank you Teri for all that you do!

How Charlotte, NC Achieved the Gold Standard of a Nurse in Every School

Written by Teri Saurer

 “Healthy children learn better. School Nurses make it happen.”

The what ifs

It was January 2012 and I started to wonder how I was going to be able to send my 4 year old, Hannah, to kindergarten in the fall. I had just discovered that the school nurse was not on duty every day. What if Hannah’s seizures returned? What if she ate something by mistake and had an allergic reaction? Would someone other than a nurse recognize the signs quick enough? Who would give her the epi-pen and what if it was too late? As I struggled to consider these questions, I decided to investigate further.

Where is funding for school nurses coming from?

I knew my first step was to talk to the school nurse supervisor for Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. With over 145,000 students and 161 schools in our district, I figured I could search the school district website to find some contact information but I was wrong. Our nurses are not employed by the school system, but are instead county employees who work for the Health Dept. I found out that the state funded less than one of our 117 school nurses, the district funded about 2 and the county funded the rest.   But now, where to begin? It seemed overwhelming and how could one mom possibly make a difference?

Advocacy beginnings

School Nurse AdvocacyIn May, as Hannah graduated from pre-school, I started thinking about the school nurse issue once again. I searched the internet and found out there was a public hearing coming up regarding the County Manager’s budget. I was not really sure what this was all about, but I signed up to speak. I had a passionate speech about how a school nurse could help my own child and how they could help ALL children. I held pictures of children across the country that died without a school nurse to move the audience into action. I was ready. I presented my speech and received a standing ovation and got calls of support, but no nurses. I realized I had to work hard if I wanted to be back this time next year and have school nurses actually be in the proposed budget next time. I was again overwhelmed and I was not sure I should go any further.

Politics

In late summer of 2012 I reached out to a school board member asking for his advice. He told me that County Commissioner candidates were running for election and suggested I reach out to them and find one that supports my cause. I was very naïve not having yet realized this issue was political since it involved funding. This was the best piece of advice I had received and it led me to Commissioner Kim Ratliff who would turn out to be crucial to our cause.

Creating awareness

Now the real work began. I knew I first had to create more awareness as most parents did not even realize there was not nurse on duty every day at their school. I needed to spread the word and get media attention as well. I planned a community meeting and the media came but there were still no more nurses and so much work to be done.

Doing things I never thought possible

Teri SaurerOver the next two years, I would do things I never thought possible. I met with County Commissioners, spoke in front of large PTA, parent and school nurse groups. I was asked to join a county school health task force. I was interviewed many times for both print and television media. I got support from parents of kids with chronic health issues whose help has been invaluable. I heard from parents of healthy children who suffered concussions at school that went undiagnosed because there was no nurse. I heard form a mom whose child had a first time allergic reaction while at school who was eternally grateful and fortunate that the nurse was there that day. She was concerned that without a nurse his reaction could have been fatal. Our motto became “Healthy children learn better. School Nurses make it happen.” We launched an email campaign and a website resulting in the County Manager and commissioners receiving hundreds of emails.

161 school nurses for 161 schools!

 

Two years and a lot of work later, we now have 44 more school nurse positions in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. While the CDC recommends one nurse per 750 students, when I began we had 1 nurse to 1200 students. Once positions get filled we will have 161 school nurses for 161 schools! This will also improve our ratio to one nurse for 900 students. We had a lot of help along the way from passionate parents, county staff and elected officials.

So many of these supporters contributed to our success. I received expert help from my mentor, Mary Louise Embrey, an NASN consultant. Commissioner Ratliff and the entire Board of County Commissioners prioritized the health of safety of our children making Charlotte a model for others to follow.  Mecklenburg County’s Health Director, Dr. Plescia, and County Manager, Dena Diorio, were instrumental.  PAK, Parents of Allergic Kids, in Charlotte has been a wonderful support.  County staff Bobby Cobb, Michelle Lancaster and Rebecca Herbert were always available for consultation. Thanks to the Charlotte medical community, the Epilepsy Foundation of N.C. and those that spoke eloquently at the public hearings, especially seventh grader Will Briggs. Last but not least, are the five ladies who worked so closely with me.   Laurie Briggs, Carrie Merner, Elyse Dashew, Laura Sharpe and Marguerite Fourqurean were passionate warriors who refused to give up.  Parent advocacy works. It is not easy, is extremely time consuming and very political at times. However, we truly believe that although funding may always be seen as an obstacle, you cannot put a price on the life of a child! Receiving an email from a little girl with Type I diabetes holding a sign saying “Thank you” means it was all worth it. We may have even saved some lives along the way. How many people can say that?

Teri SaurerTeri Saurer is a Social Worker in Charlotte, N.C. where she lives with her husband and 2 daughters. Her youngest, Hannah, has a prior history of epilepsy and currently has life threatening food allergies. In 2012 when her daughter was finishing pre-school, Teri started wondering how she could send her to kindergarten with a nurse there only 2-3 days per week. Teri did her research and formed N.C. Parents Advocating for School Health in order to advocate for more nurses in Charlotte’s 161 schools. Over the next 2 years Teri and her group met with County Commissioners, spoke to groups of parents, PTA members and school nurses, sat on school health committees and enlisted community support. They gained the support of the Health Dept and had an email campaign resulting in hundreds of parent emails being sent to the new County Manager and County Commissioners. In 2 years they helped obtain 44 additional school nurse positions in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools allowing them to now have one nurse per school.   They helped change the ratio from 1 nurse in 1200 to 1 nurse in 900 students.

Contact Teri at ncpash@yahoo.com.

For more on advocating for full-time school nurses see Making the Case for Full-time School Nurses: We Need Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Champions.

Please stay in touch and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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