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Our state ranks at the bottom for student access to a nurse. 40 percent of school districts have no nurses at all

Over the past several months there has been a lot of news coverage about the crisis in our public schools and how Oregon educators and school employees have started speaking out for their students, calling for our schools to be fully funded. I wholeheartedly agree as a newcomer to Oregon's public school system. It has been an eye-opening experience.

I am new to school nursing, although I have been a registered nurse for over 20 years. Just a few weeks into my new role, I realized that students have complex physical, emotional and spiritual needs that come up during the school day. I have had a young girl asking for advice because she thinks she is pregnant.

I have had a Type I Diabetic transfer to the school from out of state, whose needs require emergency medicine administration training for her teachers. I have had a student upset and crying, expressing thoughts of suicide. I have had a Special Ed student complain of a sore that upon inspection, revealed an abscess, a full body rash and a desperate need for a hot shower.

The student reported not being able to shower at home, because even though they are out of the shelter, her apartment has no furniture or hot water. I have had a student with unusual numbness and tingling down her arm, along with some episodes of clumsiness, and intolerance to heat, that may be early signs of Multiple Sclerosis.

She was referred to her doctor, just in case. And every day, there is a steady line of students with stomach aches, cuts and bruises, headaches, anxiety, fevers, cold symptoms, sports injuries and the like that come for ice, hot packs, tea or rest. In fact, our two cots are almost always in use. And guess what, the only way to wash those sheets here, at my school, is in the facility washer and dryers, which they use to clean the floor mops.

Upon inspection, they are undeniably too unsanitary to wash health room sheets. Needless to say, I take the sheets home to wash them now. So far, I must say it is an honor and an adventure being a school nurse. I am just so glad that at my high school, we have one for the building! I firmly believe that every single school in this state deserves its own nurse.

Unfortunately, that is not the case in Oregon. According to the report, "Unhealthy Schools: the Alarming Decline of School Nurses in Oregon," our state ranks at the bottom for student access to a nurse. 40 percent of school districts had no nurses at all and 59 percent of school districts had less than one full-time equivalent registered nurse. Many nurses travel from school to school within a district, barely able to give the attention students need.

As you can imagine, the burden for taking care of the health needs of children in schools without nurses falls on teachers and administrative staff who don't have the training to provide full care. This is not only stressful for them and risky for students, it can lead to unnecessary absenteeism. Research shows that schools with nurses send fewer children home sick.

We must do better for our students. State lawmakers must fund schools to the level necessary for a nurse in every school. School nurses matter because our children's health matters.

Shaleem Dzon lives in Lake Oswego.

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