SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

March 28, 2014

Officials push for expert medical staff at high school

PEABODY — There was general consensus among local officials Tuesday that behavioral health services are in great need at Peabody High, and data presented by city Health Director Sharon Cameron further demonstrated how overtaxed the school’s two nurses are now.

Student counterparts, who attended the School Committee session that night in preparation for the upcoming Student Government Day, were also excited at the prospect of the new health center.

“I would have loved to see this my freshman year,” said senior and student mayor Matt Mogavero. “Especially with the chronic illnesses and mental health aspect, it should be a staple in the high school. [Students] can go to teachers ... with problems, but they’re not always equipped to give the best [professional advice].”

Cameron said the nurses saw 1,431 students last year in more than 9,300 visits. Twenty-one percent of PVMHS students, about 389 teens, met with nurses for behavioral health counseling, she said, adding that school counselors and the school resource officer reported meeting with an additional 170 students who sought them out.

Cameron says the average for behavioral health issues reported by the 52 student-based health centers in the state is 26 percent of students.

She said about 300 Peabody students last year needed medication administered regularly for chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes. Nurses received 59 visits from students who experienced breathing trouble because their asthma wasn’t being properly controlled.

Nineteen percent of students were diagnosed with asthma in 2009 and reported losing at least one school day for asthma-related illness. Cameron said it costs $125 to $200 to manage an asthma attack in a school health center versus $500 in a hospital emergency room.

Eight diabetic students made more than 1,500 visits to the nurse’s office during the year.

Cameron said that “like any other large urban high school,” Peabody High also has students who struggle with substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. Twenty-eight percent of students admitted to binge drinking in a 2011 youth health survey, and 10 percent said they improperly used prescription medications at least once.

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