Survey shows students have extensive health needs

February 20, 1998


Staff Writer

Counselors were used more than 800 times last year to help Washington County school students deal with social and emotional problems, which reflects the "current social climate we live in," said the county health officer, Dr. Robert Parker.

Counselors intervened 155 times to help students deal with violence, 134 times to help them with abuse and 77 times for substance abuse, according to a report from the Washington County Health Department and the school system. Counselors intervened on 23 occasions to help students with suicide threats.

"There really are needs out there," said Martha Roulette, director of student services for Washington County Schools.

The report helps officials identify the health needs of children as the school system and the health department implement a new health program for schools.


The numbers only reflect 16,879 students of the total 19,453 school population. When the report was put together last year, a new $1.4 million health program had been started in only 30 of 45 schools. The plan is now fully implemented.

Because the program has been phased-in, it is difficult to determine any trends in the numbers, although that can now begin, Roulette said.

Officials have phased in a plan that places a health assistant in every school. Before 1995, there were nurses for schools, but only on an on-call basis, Roulette said.

Nursing assistants help dispense medication and give first aid. Registered nurses from the health department handle more serious issues, according to Parker.

According to the report, students with chronic health problems numbered 1,256, or about 7.4 percent of the student population.

Parker said those numbers are average given the large number of children who suffer from complications such as asthma or diabetes.

Last year, there were 22 students not in compliance for immunizations, 547 students who were absent 20 or more days, 136 students being taught at home or in hospitals and 1,843 students who took medication at school, which represented 10 percent of the student population, according to the report.

The number of students taking medication is not unusual given the number of complications students can suffer from, such as attention deficit disorder, Parker said.

There were 448 students, or 2.6 percent of the population, with communicable diseases and 96 students who became pregnant or who had children, the report said.

State averages for teenage pregnancy are not available yet for the 1996-97 year, but the county typically has a high teenage pregnancy rate, Parker said.

"This is a concern. Exactly why we have more in our county, we don't have a good handle on that," Parker said.

One common theory is that teenage pregnancy in Western Maryland counties seems to be a "rural phenomenon," Parker said.

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