When times are good, it’s easy to forget the role public health officials play in our lives. This is especially true in schools where thousands of germy children gather daily. Recognizing disease and warning the public is an essential role of the school nurse.
This is on exhibit again as Waseca school district nurse Deb Wobschall identified six cases of chickenpox and sent notification home to parents last week, according to the Waseca County News. Wobschall said this is the first time in 10 years the district reached the threshold number of five cases that mandate the school report the outbreak to the state.
Due to massive state education underfunding, many schools have reduced the number of nurses on staff and have student health needs met by aides or secretaries. This means individual student health needs at the school level sometimes go unmet, including hygiene education and early warning of diseases like chickenpox.
Minnesota’s school nurse corps is in a sorrowful state. Today, Minnesota stands 30th in the nation with a school nurse-to-student ratio of 1,400-to-1, about half the 750-to-1 ratio recommended by the National Association of School Nurses. Minnesota law requires that a school district with more than 1,000 students must have at least one school nurse in the district. That means small districts may have no nurse, and many medium-sized districts may have one nurse to cover five or six schools, aided by nursing assistants or secretaries.
Chickenpox vaccination is voluntary, and some say a lack of vaccination may have helped this outbreak. However, this situation is another reminder that in the face of a communicable disease, money saved by cutting health professionals is money wasted.