Primary care at primary school

Reed City, Big Rapids schools start new program sharing school nurse

REED CITY — Two local school districts are partnering with Spectrum Health to provide a shared nurse for their students, but the role will be more than administering Band-Aids and medicine.

Mary Underhill is the new consultative nurse for Big Rapids Public Schools and Reed City Area Public Schools.

Underhill will split time at the districts, working Mondays and Wednesday in Big Rapids and Tuesdays and Thursdays in Reed City. She will alternate Fridays each week.

“I rotate through the schools within the district I am at throughout the day, but needs may keep me at one building longer than others,” Underhill said. “I try to be present as much as I can at the different schools in the district throughout the day.”

Along with being able to physically be at schools, there is a virtual component to the program. Camera equipment is being installed so if a questions arises while Underhill is in a different district or building, she can be contacted and asked questions using the Spectrum Health MedNow system, even having the chance to view and assess the student using high-definition cameras.

In her role, Underhill will interact with teachers, students, staff and parents, said Scott Lombard, director of community outreach for Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals.

While the old thought was a school nurse checks for lice and gives out pills, the job has advanced beyond that, Lombard explained.

“Mary will be writing up protocol to administer medication and dealing with health plans for students with chronic illnesses, which has really exploded in students,” he said. “Schools now have more kids with diabetes, allergies and asthma, so building protocols for how to take care of those students is important.”

For example, a student who has a severe allergy that could lead to an anaphylactic reaction will have an individualized health plan in place, along with an emergency action plan, Underhill said.

Underhill also will focus on connecting families and students with the health resources they need and reducing absences.

“If we keep kids in school, we will have a healthy community in general,” she said. “The No. 1 priority is keeping students safe and healthy at school. I will be measuring the outcomes of student absentees, so I’ll be looking at that and being a resource to help keep kids in school.”

Both superintendents are excited about the new program, which is being funded entirely by Spectrum Health in the first year, with the districts contributing to the cost in the future.

Having a school nurse helps ensure the safest possible environment for students, said Big Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Tim Haist.

“We’re very grateful Spectrum Health is willing to work with us and provide this opportunity for our students and our schools,” Haist said. “There’s a big benefit in having someone manage these health plans on a day-to-day basis and touch base with our students with the highest medical needs. It gives peace of mind to staff and parents.”

Reviewing medications and health plans is a priority at Reed City Area Public Schools as well, said Superintendent Tim Webster.

“We’re glad to have someone who is skilled and knowledgeable about the questions students, parents and staff may have about medications,” Webster said. “Another huge benefit to the schools is she will be able to help with all kinds of teaching opportunities related to health.”

Underhill is looking forward to her position, calling it the “perfect role” for her.

“This is hands-on educating and allows me to be part of the school system as well,” she said. “I get to see students clinically, but I also am educating staff, students and even parents sometimes.”