Wilmington School RNs Celebrate $1 Million Worth of Grant Successes
WILMINGTON, Mass.—“Children must be healthy to learn, and a child must learn to be healthy.” That is a basic tenet of the commonwealth’s “Essential School Health Services” program (ESHS), which has been making grant monies available to qualified school nurse/health groups for over a decade.
The Wilmington school nurses are one of the dedicated groups who have faithfully gone the extra mile in order to secure ESHS grant money on behalf of their school system. To date, over $1 million has been pumped into the town for school health programs—and everyone is seeing the benefits of those dollars.
The nurses became involved with the state’s ESHS program in the late 1990s, at a time when they were operating on a shoestring budget and with age-old tools. The nurses spearheaded a fearsome grant-writing initiative after learning of the DPH program, and they were selected as grant recipients in the first year. The initial outlay was $100,000, with an additional $100,000 to follow for four more years. Since then, the school nurses have applied for and secured the grant money on subsequent occasions resulting in more than $1 million coming into Wilmington for school health programs.
In order to be accepted as a grant recipient—as well as to remain qualified—the Wilmington school RNs, who are affiliated with the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), had to meet and maintain several key criteria, including:
• Creating an appropriate health program infrastructure
• Collaborating with other health education programs (i.e., tobacco control)
• Linking students with other health professionals (i.e., PCs, DMDs)
• Creating management information systems
• Implementing performance improvement/evaluation tools
Much of the money in those early days of the grant program was spent on overdue “capital investments.” According to Maureen Travis, the RN at the West Intermediate School and chairperson of the MNA bargaining unit in Wilmington, nearly every item in their health care arsenal was in need of upgrading. “We purchased everything from refrigerators for temperature-sensitive meds and supplies to utility carts and computer systems,” said Travis. Other purchases included vision and hearing equipment, chairs and cots for children, file cabinets, phones and desks. “It has made for a tremendous improvement in how we care for and follow-up with our students and their families,” Travis added.
Their investment in high-tech equipment was particularly important, because the movement to a paperless system for students’ health records was a requirement of the grant. Now, more than a decade in to the process, Travis said the benefits of that improvement are immeasurable.
“We are continuously updating students’ electronic medical records through a program called SNAP, and we’re moving toward having their health records completely computer based,” said Travis. “Even better we can, and do, regularly pull data from this record system that allows us to analyze how many students visit us, what they are treated for, what meds were administered, how many emergency situations we managed, and even how many students are sent home.”
The last point is of particular importance, because the school RNs—who have been supported by the Wilmington school administration in their efforts to secure and use the grant monies—have an impressive record of keeping the vast majority of students in school and learning which is, after all, exactly what they should be doing.