Kanawha Co. officials, students express need for more school nurses


Tarrika Butler looks like a healthy teenage girl. She leaps with long strides. She speaks in a voice both strong and smooth.

It's hard to tell Butler doesn't see a primary-care doctor. The high school junior said she doesn't see any doctors, really.

"There's probably a lot of kids at school that doesn't get to see a doctor regularly," Tarrika said.

That's why Antoinette Nottingham, a nurse at Capital High School in Charleston, wants to make sure she's providing the best care she can to her students. All 1,332 of them.

"We can bridge the gap between education and health so students are ready to learn," Nottingham said."It's a lot of triage, it's a lot of training, it's a lot of tender loving care."

Nottingham said she plays many roles to her students:  nurse, sympathetic ear, "sometimes even mom." Students also rely on the nurse's office for everything from band-aids to feminine products. Tarrika said she knows several friends whose parents can afford neither.

Clinton Giles, the principal of Capital High School, said he wants more nurses and medical professionals on staff.

"Capital High School has a full-time nurse that literally is not here at least 2 days per week," Giles said.

Kanawha County Schools assigned Nottingham to CHS, but she also serves two other schools as a stand-by and a consultant. As a professional with more than 30 years of experience, Nottingham also trains other employees at workshops.

"It's busy," she said.

Nottingham knows she's needed. Thousands of students seek medical assistance from school nurses, according to statistics obtained from Kanawha County Schools. For example, school nurses in Kanawha County dealt with 1,382 cases of asthma and tended to 165 heart-related cases during the 2011-12 school year. These professionals filed 112 reports with Child Protective Services solely based on students' visits to the nurse's office.

Statewide, 22 percent of students require some medical procedure mandated by a physician, according to Rebecca King, a coordinator with the West Virginia State Board of Education. Oftentimes, only nurses can administer certain medications or procedures. King explained specifics on a larger scale: 274 school nurses serve 282,310 students in 730 public schools across the Mountain State.

In Kanawha County, 34 school nurses serve more than 28,000 students in approximately 70 institutions, according to Brenda Isaac, lead school nurse for Kanawha County Schools.

Isaac said nearly all the nurses in Kanawha County serve between two and three schools.

"It would be great to have a nurse in every school," Isaac said. "At least a school nurse and a half."

The administrator recalled several incidents in which nurses rushed from school to school to administer medications.

"I know of several nurses who have been stopped for speeding....I don't want my nurses taking chances on the road to get to a child who needs help," said Isaac, emphasizing a need for more hires.

Because Nottingham travels between schools, administrators made sure other staff members at Capital were trained in CPR and basic first aid skills. Giles said he believes the lack of a full-time nurse at his school, one present five days a week, could present a safety issue.

"Accidents don't always happen when the nurse is here," said Giles, who has worked at Capital for 25 years.

The conundrum compounds with demographics. Approximately 65 percent of the student population at Capital High School lives below the poverty line, according to Giles. The principal claimed he worries about the students who slip between the cracks, those belonging to families exempt from entitlement programs such as Medicaid or CHIP.

"We have a number of indigent students who attend our school and for many of them, their primary health care they receive, they receive right here," Giles said. Administrators said they send students to the hospital in case of dire emergencies.

When students and parents do find affordable health care and providers, finding transportation is half the battle, Nottingham said. She cited access to primary care as the biggest challenge students face at CHS.

"Having to follow through with the family to get them to care is sometimes difficult," Nottingham said.

Tarrika said for now, her school nurse is the closest she gets to a doctor.

"Most of the time whenever I do need her, she's most of the time here," said the high school junior. "But when she's not here, it's kind of a struggle."

© Copyright 2000 - 2017 WorldNow and WOWK