Commission discusses medical needs for schools and individuals

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 19, 2005

GREENSBORO-The Black Belt Action Commission’s Health Commission held a special meeting Monday at the Hale County Board of Education to discuss relief programs for the Black Belt. On the agenda were discussions of prescription relief and the need for stronger school nurse programs in the state’s educational system.

Attorney Robert Schuler was present to discuss a program that could aid families with lower incomes in their prescription costs. Schuler said Prescription Relief programs offer access to more than 600 prescription medications from more than 80 pharmaceutical companies to people with low to moderate incomes including seniors. He said many have not been able to take advantage o f the program because of the complicated paperwork and administrative procedures required of them and their doctor.

Qualified individuals are able through the program individuals are able to obtain brand name prescription medications for $8 per prescription per person.

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Schuler said companies are able to do this through partnerships.

“For many years pharmaceutical companies have affiliated with these foundations,” Schuler said. “They donate their pharmaceuticals and name brand products to those foundations. Those foundations then have committees and they decide which low to moderate income candidates they would like to serve.”

Getting the word of such programs to the people who need it most has been a problem. Schuler said many of the people who need prescription relief the most lack the outlets of communication needed to learn more about these programs.

“The challenge has been our average participant has 3.2 prescriptions per month,” Schuler said. “Some can be many more than that. The challenge is that most of the low to moderate income people are either seniors or people that lack access to information, websites and other means of communication or are just not good at working with the system.”

One of the newest goals for the program to advertise the service and get the word out. Schuler said they were working with local leaders to get more information about their programs to the public.

“We have been partnering with governments and government organizations to help bring awareness of these programs,” Schuler said. “We are really trying to get the word out.”

The group acts as an interface between the participant and the doctor to help with the initial application process. This includes the initial processing of applications, which takes between eight and 10 weeks. After that time, Prescription Relief manages the process for refilling the prescriptions with the goal to maintain continual coverage.

Qualifications for the program are an income level of $19,000 for a single person and $31,000 per year for a couple.

The major advantage of this program is there is no age limit.

Schuler said they normally plan a campaign to launch the program and usually see a rising number of interested parties.

“After the initial launch you get about one percent of the population to respond,” Schuler said. “Over time through the media event and through the local social services and medical community you can get about four or five percent.”

Melanie Sharpton, who was at the meeting representing the School Nurse Association of Alabama, followed Schuler with a presentation on the greater need for medical personnel in schools. Sharpton pointed out the growing number of illnesses in schools that must be dealt with such as Diabetes, Epilepsy, cardiac conditions and tracheostomy management. Sharpton said these are problems nurses did not deal with 20 years ago because these children were not in schools. However, the needs for school nurses have increased while the numbers have not.

There is one area in association with school nurses where the numbers have continued to rise. Sharpton gave five anonymous examples of school systems in the state where the student to nurse ration had skyrocketed. In one system there was a total of 65,000 students with 65 nurses and 247,671 medications. Another system housed 97,450 students with only 110 nurses and 317,701.5 medications. The smallest system had 1,550 students to only one nurse with 879 medications.

Sharpton said many times children with serious illnesses may need more attention from the nurse which hurts their ability to be there for the hundreds of other students with minor illnesses.

“You take a child with diabetes and that nurse is going to be at that school and that nurse may be in the classroom with that student,” Sharpton said. “They may not be able to attend to the hundreds of other students in that classroom and give them that one on one care.”

Act 98-672 put into practice by then Gov. Fob James in 1998 is expected to help the situation some. The Act required one school nurse for every 11,500 students with a 12-year phase in towards a nurse to student ratio of 1 to 2,000.

Sharpton said these changes are needed terribly to bring some school nurses up to speed with the facilities provided in other systems.

“Some nurses have office areas and they are fully loaded with medical supplies,” Sharpton said. “Some nurses have a cot in the corner of an office and some nurses do not have any space at all.”

Sharpton discussed some possible solutions to the problems that plague school nurses. She said awareness campaigns, historical viewpoints, school health data and exploring other solutions could all help bridge the gap.

A correlation between health and academic performance was referenced in the presentation. Sharpton said healthier students naturally performed better in the classroom and that was their desired result.