Rowan has all pieces to solve schools’ health puzzle

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 20, 2014

In national rankings, North Carolina ranks high for our number of sick school children, and low for our number of school nurses. Rowan County has a significant opportunity to become a North Carolina leader in solving this problem by using modern technology in a way no other North Carolina school system currently has.
One in five school kids has a medical diagnosis that must be managed to facilitate maximum learning.
Here are some startling facts you probably do not know about North Carolina school health:
1. One in three North Carolina kids aged 10-17 are obese. Obese children have their life shortened between four and 10 years, and account for one dollar of every $10 spent on health care in the United States.
2. One in 10 students in North Carolina suffer from asthma. It is the leading chronic health condition reported by the school system and the leading cause of absenteeism. It is the leading cause of hospitalization of children under 15.
3, Diabetes is now the seventh leading cause of death in North Carolina and skyrocketing. As a nation we are headed toward a future where 1 in 3 adults will have it and live 15 years less than the rest of us. Diabetes among children is really scary — if not kept under control, it can lead to blindness, paralysis, amputation and death.
4. Food allergies are skyrocketing in children, now impacting one in 12. These allergies call for careful monitoring and training in the use of epi-pens by both the child and adults nearby.

Chronic diseases like obesity, asthma and diabetes are different than a broken arm or tooth ache; managing the disease is primarily the duty of the patient. A broken arm, once set, will heal on its own. The tooth will stop hurting once the dentist does his or her magic. A chronic disease is like a thief in the neighborhood — unless you are constantly on guard, it will sneak in and surface again.
The problem is that few patients change their behavior.
Take adult diabetics for example. Two thirds of them eat better, but only one in five do the required exercise, and just a few prick their finger and check their blood, which they are supposed to do several times a day. One in four do not check even monthly. They literally put themselves in an early grave.
When you mix chronic diseases and kids, the situation gets even more challenging, because the child is too young to take full responsibility in managing their illness.
A school nurse can be a big help. In Rowan County there are only 12 school nurses — or about one for every 1,700 students. Each one is responsible for three schools. The national standard is one nurse to every 750 kids. So we have a high number of sick kids needing close oversight, and too few trained people to provide it.
Rowan County has 20,000 students in 35 schools. According to their parents, 1,600 of those 20,000 have a diagnosis of chronic illness that can seriously impact the quality of their current and future life. Many parents do not inform the school system, so the real number is higher.
Those numbers lead us to the school system’s newly issued laptops and ever-present cell phones.
So here are the puzzle pieces laid out on the kitchen table:
• All the high school students just got issued new Apple laptops that include the ability to have a video call to their school nurse;
• Most seriously ill school kids have portable monitors such as blood sugar monitors, or devices that measure lung function, and can share the results simply by holding the monitor up to the camera;
• Existing Rowan County school nurses know their seriously ill children, and know how to help — but when needed are often at one of the other two schools they are responsible for;
• Apple is getting ready to release new health monitoring devices;
• Novant Health is open to cooperating in innovation;
• The key to chronic disease management is training the child over and over about the steps they must take. This involves keeping logs of things like what they ate, when they take their pills, and when they worked out, for how long. Successful programs already in place around the country exist to imitate.
Rowan County can become a state and national role model in helping our sick children. We just need to come together around the kitchen table, arrange the puzzle pieces and agree to make it happen.
As I researched this article, I was very pleased to discover a great willingness on the part of the school administration, the school nurses and Novant Health system to try to seize this opportunity. Let’s support their creative thinking.
To see the sources of facts used in this article, and learn of other successful money and life saving programs that can be implemented locally to create a better future for our country, go to