Health room policies tax nurses and pose risks to students

Feb. 3, 2005, midnight | By John Silberholz | 19 years, 4 months ago

As 5B lunch ends, junior Minh-Phuong Huynh-Le struggles towards room 172. She has been feeling sick all day and when she arrives, Huynh-Le realizes that she is too ill to attend class and asks her teacher to go to the health room, not even thinking to request a pass. One long trek across the school later, she enters the health room, only to be turned away because she lacks the pass required for admission.

Unfortunately for Huynh-Le, the trip back to class and then again to the health room proves to be too much - she faints on the return trip, striking her head sharply against a wall and suffering a concussion, becoming a victim of the health room's "no pass, go back to class" policy.

Unfortunately, the health room pass policy, which requires students to have a signed handbook from their classroom teachers prior to admission to the health room, has caused still more casualties. For example, junior Alex Alm badly cut his arm while playing football during lunch last year. However, he did not have a pass when entering the health room because he was injured during his lunch period. Following policy, the nurse sent Alm - his arm still steadily bleeding - without treatment to his administrator on the other side of the building to get a pass. Alm instead opted to hold paper towels over the three-inch incision until he stopped the blood flow - hardly an adequate treatment for such an injury.

While it is tempting to blame these incidents on the health room staff, the true culprit is the policy that Blair nurses must follow. According to nurse Mazine Lofton, the health room's two staffers see between 600 and 1,000 students each month, many of whom are missing either an ID or a pass. Nurses will treat students without a pass or ID, but only those students who are "legitimately sick"; others are turned away, Lofton says.

This pass policy forces the health room staff to make hundreds of judgment calls each month about whether a student is actually capable of returning to class for a pass or an ID - decisions that they shouldn't have to make. Since the health room's primary concern is treating students, it is always better to avoid one injury like Huynh-Le's than to obsessively prevent students from skipping class.

Not that the policy actually prevents skipping. According to an email sent to all teachers by Assistant Principal Linda Wanner on Dec. 5, teachers are required to release any student who asks to go to the health room - so under the current policy, a student who wants to skip must do is ask a teacher for a pass that they cannot withhold. Since students are logged in and out of the health room, a teacher could still determine if a pupil was actually sick during class or just skipping by checking the record, making passes superfluous.

Skipping class to the health room is also deterred by the very nature of the student's destination. After all, who but the most desperate want to skip a class period in a room full of coughing, germ-laden teenagers?

However, still greater flaws lie in the pass policy. Requiring students to get a signed handbook from their teacher leaves pupils with no easy entry into the health room if they become ill between classes or during lunch, since they then need to track down an administrator to sign their pass to enter. Searching the school for an administrator is the last thing that Blazers need to do when they are ill, and any policy that forces them to does not have their best interests in mind.

Administrators should ditch not only the health room pass policy but also the health room ID policy that requires students without ID cards to go purchase new ones before receiving treatment. Junior Patrick Mifflin encountered this policy one day last year when he forgot his ID. Becoming increasingly nauseous as the day progressed, Mifflin eventually vomited and then staggered to the health room after getting a pass from his teacher. Instead of receiving treatment or even somewhere to sit, he was left in a line of students waiting for new IDs, struggling with queasiness as he waited for his turn.

According to Lofton, the health room ID policy exists in response to students wearing a friend's ID or no card at all, which hinders verification of a student's identity for logging purposes. This requirement delays the treatment of students like Mifflin, whose illness called for immediate attention. A better policy would be to simply accept students without an ID and send for a new one, which the student would receive before leaving the room. This way, the student's identity could be verified without any delay in their treatment.

The bottom line: Promptly aiding sick students should always take priority in a health room.

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John Silberholz. The Chips PRODMAN (and editoral board member), John enjoys basketball, tennis and biking, looks forward to yet another year on Chips. Among other things, he enjoys climbing trees (even though he has a weird tendancy of falling off of them), biking like crazy, playing basketball, … More »

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