January 9, 1998

VUSN program brings improved care to area elementary school

VUSN program brings improved care to area elementary school

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Nurse Daria Del Prete takes first-grader Khandi Hood's temperature at Stratton Elementary School. (Photo by Donna Jones Bailey).

Vanderbilt University School of Nursing's program to provide health care services to children on-site at certain Metro Nashville schools is showing promising early results.

The school-based health care program began at Stratton Elementary School in Madison at the beginning of the current school year.

"We provide all the basic nursing duties," said Clare Sullivan, R.N., family nurse practitioner and coordinator of the school-based health program at VUSN. "School nursing is pretty comprehensive. It's not just the Band-aids and the medications, although we do do that. But it's also triaging care and case management, assisting families in working with the managed care system, as well as health screening, education and health promotion activities, including immunizations programs."

The clinic is a joint effort of the Memorial Foundation, Stratton School, VUSN and Primary Care Services, a VUSN community health service.

There is no charge for the school health nursing services.

"We identified the need for improving access to services and coordinating services to families and felt that school-based care delivery is really an effective strategy," Sullivan said.

More than 600 children attend Stratton School in grades kindergarten through fourth. The clinic is open Monday through Friday during school hours and consists of one large room, sectioned off into two examination rooms and several resting couches.

"We have a part-time registered nurse and 30 hours of nurse practitioner time at each site. Patti Scott, certified pediatric nurse practitioner, has also been with the school-based program since its beginning and shares responsibility for primary care."

The nurses on staff are kept busy every day, seeing about 60 children each day.

"Many of the children we see on a regular basis to dispense their required normal medication. Others we may see when they are sick or injured during the school day," Sullivan said.

Howard Henderson, principal of Stratton School, said the school-based health clinic is a wonderful addition.

"We are very grateful for the program. The staff nurses are so professional in every way and it's a been a big boost to everyone that the clinic is here," Henderson said.

Henderson said the nurses have taken over some responsibilities that previously fell to the school's staff.

"Many of our children here are on special medication. It is so wonderful now that professional nurses can take care of the children's health care needs," he said.

"And now, when a child gets hurt in class or on the playground, we have professional health care workers who can check them out right here at the school."

The students also appear to appreciate the new service. Pictures on the wall in the Stratton School clinic show smiling young patients' faces with the nurses.

Fourth grader Steven Davis often comes to the clinic to get medication.

"It's neat and they are always friendly and always take good care of me when I am not feeling well," he said.

Fourth grader Tabitha Kingston agrees. "The other day I came to the clinic because I had a cat scratch and I needed to get some medicine on it. They took care of it. It's nice having a clinic in the school," she said.

Funding for the school-based clinic comes from the Memorial Foundation in Nashville. That funding is expected to run out by the end of this school year, but VUSN officials are looking for other sources to keep the program running.

A second school-based health center, also run by VUSN, was begun in Fall-Hamilton Elementary School two years ago. There are less than 10 school-based health clinics in the state of Tennessee.

Roxane Spitzer, Ph.D., associate dean of the School of Nursing, oversees the two school health clinics and said there are hopes of expanding the program to other Nashville-area schools.

"We would like to follow these children on into the middle school and high school arena," said Spitzer. "I think if we can do that we can begin to demonstrate some real outcomes and show that we can really help the children."

The ultimate goal, Sullivan said, is to keep children healthy and in school by identifying health and social problems early.

"Children have to be healthy to learn and also need to learn how to be healthy. A piece of that is certainly classroom instruction, but if we can reinforce that with the children and their families, we might have a better chance of achieving that goal."