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Nationwide shortage of school nurses called a "crisis" that may be putting kids' lives at risk

School nurse shortage: Kids' lives at risk?
Is nationwide shortage of school nurses putting kids' lives at risk? 05:03

As part of our School Matters series, "CBS This Morning" examines what some are calling a growing national crisis: the shortage of school nurses.

Only three out of five schools across the country have full-time school nurses often forcing school administrators, with no medical training, to step in and provide some level of care.

The role of the school nurse is more critical than ever, with a quarter of all young children suffering some kind of chronic illness, like asthma and diabetes. Over the past several years, multiple children have died after facing medical emergencies in their schools when no nurse was on duty, reports Hilary Lane. 

Last October, Rasheen Pressley's 9-year-old son Hasoun collapsed in the school cafeteria. He was rushed to the hospital where he was later pronounced dead of heart failure.

"They failed him all ways. Like they wasn't there to help him," Pressley said. "He was my only son. … there weren't nobody there to help him. Nothing."

There was no school nurse on duty that day. According to a Philadelphia school district official, staff certified in CPR tried to revive Hasoun who'd been born with a heart defect. It's unknown had a school nurse been there that day if they would have been able to save him.

More stories from our School Matters series:

Asked if she thinks things might have gone differently for her son if there was a school nurse there that day, Rasheen said, "I think so. You never know."

There are no federal laws regulating school nurse staffing, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least one registered nurse in every school – a standard many districts are failing to meet.

Donna Mazyck, the executive director of the National Association of School Nurses, called the issue a "crisis." She said 40 percent of schools across the country do not have a full time nurse and 25 percent don't have a nurse at all.

"Students deserve what they need to be in school and ready to learn," Mazyck said.

Mazyck blames shrinking budgets for the shortfall, which she said increases the burden on existing nurses and puts kids at risk.

"If you have a workload that doesn't enable you to care for the students in a way that you need, it's like drinking water from a fire hose," Mazyck said.

Denie Gorbey-Creese is a school nurse in Howard County, Maryland who covers two schools a day.

"I'm often stressed because I have to figure out the safest way to balance it," Gorbey-Creese said.

She has health assistants at each school who call her with questions when she is not in the building.

"If I'm busy with an emergency at my other school, I'm not available right away, so it might delay their care some," she said.

"As a school nurse, do you feel like you are stretched too thin?" Lane asked.

"I think so," Gorbey-Creese said. "I would love to be able to be in one place, so that I could provide the care that kids need. I also think I would get to know the kids a lot better."

In Cincinnati, Ohio, where nurses were also sometimes covering more than one school, they're tackling the problem through a partnership with Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

"We are now able to provide routine primary care services for all of the students in the building as well as any child in the community," said Lisa Crosby, the hospital's clinical manager.

They've opened health centers in schools to close the gap. According to Crosby, that allows students to receive the same services they would in a pediatrician's office.

In the wake of his son's death, Rasheen Pressley says schools must find a way to provide care for all students.

"Because if we ain't got no nurses at the school, you might as well – might as well just-teach the kids at home. That's just common sense."

The Philadelphia School District is working with a local hospital to determine if and what kind of additional health support is needed in the schools.

Next month, a bill will be reintroduced in Washington called the Nurse Act. It would provide grants for schools to hire nurses.

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