July - Aug Issue
July 02, 2014

Union advocacy keeps diabetic students safe

Author: By Kara Smith
Source: NYSUT United

School nurses won't cut corners when it comes to keeping students healthy.

That's why NYSUT's Health Care Professionals Council (HCPC) launched a public awareness and education campaign this spring to speak out against proposals that would allow non-medically licensed school staff to administer injections to diabetic students.

After aggressive lobbying by NYSUT, state lawmakers approved a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, D-Queens, and Sen. John J. Flanagan, R-Smithtown. The legislation allows students diagnosed with conditions like diabetes, asthma and respiratory diseases, to carry and self administer medications for their conditions, only under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.

The bill awaits final action by the governor.

Caring for students with diabetes extends far beyond simply administering an injection, said Anne Goldman, chair of NYSUT's HCPC and the United Federation of Teachers' vice president for non-department of education members. Knowing what to look for, and how to respond if complications occur is vitally important.

"Crying, sweating and drowsiness could be symptoms of a problem with a child's insulin dosage," Goldman explained. "When an emergency occurs, it's important that students are appropriately cared for."

Although the State Education Department already allows non-licensed, trained individuals to administer glucagon to diabetic students in emergency situations, the drugs offer an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Unlike glucagon, which is nearly impossible to overdose, insulin is classified as a high-alert medication by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices and could cause serious harm, even death, if administered improperly, Goldman said.

The Nolan/Flanagan bill is important because it codifies best practice for asthma, allergies and diabetes care in schools and adheres to the state Department of Health guidance document on diabetes management. Most importantly, the bill does not allow non-licensed school personnel to administer insulin.

"It's about providing quality care and ensuring that best practices are maintained in the school setting when administering these kinds of medications," said Goldman. "And the best person to provide that care is a trained, licensed medical professional."

NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale said it's essential that "licensed health care professionals are on staff at every school building to ensure the heath and safety of students."