Health screenings and more

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 12, 1999

DEBORAH CORRAO / L’Observateur / May 12, 1999

“School nurses wear many hats,” says school nurse Janice Matherne.

“Sometimes I have to act as a surrogate mother, a child advocate or a counselor.”In years past the school nurse was largely responsible for vision and hearing screenings and an annual weight check of students.

But in the last six or seven years Janice Matherne has seen a dramatic increase in the scope of her responsibilities.

Matherne, 54, has served as a nurse for the St. Charles Parish PublicSchool system for 20 years. Currently, she divides her time between theA.A. Songy Kindergarten Center, Mimosa Park Elementary and LakewoodElementary.

She spends two days a week at Mimosa, two at Lakewood and one at Songy, which is next door to Lakewood. Mimosa Park is about a half a mile away.Working at those three schools provides Matherne continuity in dealing with basically the same children and their parents from the time the children begin kindergarten through sixth grade.

“Health screening is still one of the largest components of my job,” Matherne says. “But now there is so much more.”In the fall Matherne coordinates the screening of all students for vision, hearing, height, weight and blood pressure. Students in grades six andabove are also screened for scoliosis. If problems are detected at thattime, she makes referrals.

During the school year she tracks the students to make sure referrals are followed up. Toward the end of the year students are rechecked.”I enjoy interacting with children and to be a part of their annual screening, that way I can touch base with each student at least once a year,” she says.

The biggest change Matherne has seen in her tenure is the number of students who must be medicated at school for conditions such as attention deficit disorder and asthma.

Matherne has also seen an influx in the number of “medically fragile” children within the public school system. Some of these children must befed through tubes or might require catheterization.

School nurses and non-medical personnel such as school secretaries or special education teachers who have participated in a special six-hour training program are the only people allowed to administer prescription drugs to students or to provide proper care for the medically fragile student.

A special procedures nurse who services the entire parish is responsible for providing that training.

At the three schools Matherne services, school secretaries are trained to dispense prescription medications as well medications used in emergency procedures such as diabetic comas, epilepsy or allergic reactions to insect bites until further medical help can be provided.

Parents must come to the schools to administer any over-the-counter medications to their children.

Because of the increase in the administering of medication and the influx of medically fragile children, Matherne says things must be well documented to ensure accountability. Daily logs must be saved for sevenyears.

This documentation along with forms required to be submitted to the state and to the local system have greatly multiplied the amount of paperwork for which the school nurse is responsible.

Matherne says plans are in place to computerize the records that must be kept and reported by school nurses.

Matherne and the other eight school nurses in St. Charles Parish are partof Crisis Response Teams at each of the schools they service, working along with school counselors, administrators and teachers in instances where a student has made a suicide threat, a threat to harm another student or a family member or if there has been a death in the student’s immediate family. In those cases the Crisis Response Team assesses thesituation and how to handle it with students and their families.

“If there has been a death in a child’s family, we coordinate efforts with school nurses in the schools attended by the child’s siblings,” she says.

“We alert counselors and nurses in those schools.”As part of her daily responsibilities, Matherne must assess and treat the numerous bumps and bruises children seem to acquire during a normal day.

If a child is injured more seriously and needs a referral to a physician or hospital, the school nurse must fill out an accident report.

Matherne finds that some children just visit the school nurse seeking a little emotional comfort. Sometimes a child will complain of astomachache or a headache but have no physical symptoms such as vomiting or fever.

“I have to be a detective,” she says. “I question them about what they’vedone the night before, what they ate.”If a child confides that he has been physically and/or sexually abused, Matherne is required by law to report the incident to the proper authorities.

The difficult part of her job, she says, is having no control over a child’s home environment.

“All we can do here at school is to provide stability, regularity and routine,” she says.Back to Top

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