By Sarah Blenner, JD, MPH
One out of every 400-600 school aged children has type-1 diabetes. Diabetes is a condition where individuals either cannot naturally produce or cannot properly use insulin. While the medical complications and threats of low blood sugar levels are often more immediate and apparent then complications and threats of high blood sugar levels, both conditions must be treated immediately to ensure the overall safety and well being of a child with diabetes. Keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal now will help a child live a longer, healthier life. Since children spend a large amount of time in school, it is important for these children to control blood glucose levels during school hours.
Healthy People 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National health objectives, sets a goal to increase the number of schools with a school nurse to student ratio of 1:750. Healthy People 2010 and the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) also recognize that there are certain situations where more nurses are needed for a smaller student population, such as in situations where many of the students have healthcare needs that must be addressed during the school day.
In March, the NASN ranked the progress of States in meeting this goal using 2009 and 2008 data. According to NASN, only 13 states met this standard – Vermont leads other states with a school nurse to student ratio of 1:311.
But while health professionals believe that the safest and healthiest way for students to attend school is with a school nurse to student ratio of at the most 1:750, Illinois has an astounding ratio of 1:2,023. Ranked 40th by NASN, Illinois does not come close to meeting the appropriate mark. Many Illinois schools do not have a school nurse. Some schools share a single nurse for an entire district. And there are even disparities between schools and school districts. With the state budget crisis in Illinois, schools likely do not have the funds to invest in additional nurses to meet the recommended ratio.
The solution? Passing a state law called the Care of Students with Diabetes Act that would allow children with diabetes to attend school safely by training volunteer school employees on how to help a specific child with diabetes should the child need assistance. On March 26, 2010, the Care of Students with Diabetes Act passed out of the Illinois House by 104 votes in favor of and 1 vote against the bill. The bill unanimously passed out of the Senate Public Health committee on March 3 and will be brought before the Senate Executive committee on April 21.
Most medical organizations that deal with diabetes, as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services believe that children and non-nurses can safely care for their diabetes in school if they receive proper training. But some nursing groups argue that only nurses should deal with diabetes in school.
Limiting diabetes care in school to nurses is not a possibility. The ratio of school nurses to students cannot accommodate all children with diabetes who attend school in Illinois. If passed, the Care of Students with Diabetes Act would allow volunteer school employees to stand in for the nurse in the event that a nurse is not immediately available and will ensure the safety of students with diabetes during the school day.