Cuts in School Nurses Will Increase Health Care Costs

Today’s Managing Health Care Costs Indicator is 51

That’s how many school nurses were laid off in Philadelphia due to the budget crunch in that city. NPR reports that school systems nationwide have laid off scores of nurses – and here’s why this will raise health care costs.

1)     School nurses are able to do triage for children with minor illnesses, and monitor them until they are transported home.  Sometimes school nurses even treat major illnesses - such as seizures in the NPR report.  Some of these children will go to emergency departments absent a school nurse.  Cost savings for the school system will lead to higher health care costs.
2)     School nurses help advocate for a ‘culture of health’ around a school, which is where the young develop the habits that will help or haunt them for their entire lifetimes.  School nurses can promote exercise and proper nutrition, and diminish teen smoking.
3)     Many school nurses play an important nonparental role with regard to birth control.  Teens are often more willing to confide in a school nurse than their parents, and some school nurses distribute condoms and actively participate in sex education.  Fewer school nurses è more teen pregnancies è higher medical costs.  These school nurse cuts probably mean more abortions, too. 
4)     School nurses are often the professionals who identify untreated depression and behavioral health disorders, and encourage treatment.   Untreated behavioral health problems increase the overall cost of health care.

It’s ironic that school nurses are being fired just as employers are implementing new on-site health centers and recognizing the opportunity to improve employee health through coaching and educational programs.  These employer programs meet many of the same needs addressed by school nurses for our children.  These cuts will increase health care costs over both the short and the long term.