In 2014, 22.4% of high school students in Virginia had been told by a doctor or nurse that they had asthma, based on a study by the Virginia Department of Health’s Virginia Youth Survey.
For school nurses to administer medication to treat asthma, a prescription would need to be provided — but not for long under a bill making its way through the General Assembly.
Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, filed legislation to make it easier for school nurses to stock albuterol asthma inhalers and administer the medication to students.
If the bill were to pass, school nurses would be authorized to stock the inhalers at the school and administer in cases of emergencies, as well as provide “good Samaritan” protection.
“Virginia already allows this for Epi-pens, and it only makes sense to do this for the asthma inhalers,” Bell said in a press release, referring to the epinephrine injection devices commonly used to treat severe allergic reactions.
Based on the National Association of School Nurses Survey from school year 2015-16, there was an asthma rate of 45.1 to 81.0 per 1,000 students in Rockingham County. Rates in Harrisonburg ranged from 81.1 to 384.2.
With the passage of the bill, an employee of a school board, school for students with disabilities or accredited private school who is trained to administer an inhaler can do so with consent of the student’s parent.
Bell said a school nurse at his daughter’s school, Baker-Butler Elementary, and a school nurse from another school in Albemarle County brought the issue to his attention.
Eileen Gomez, school nurse coordinator for Albemarle County Public Schools and nurse at Hollymead Elementary School, testified before the House Health Professions Subcommittee on Thursday and said the issue started when some substitute nurses working in a school clinic found a student who was experiencing an asthma attack but did not have access to his inhaler.
“The choices there were to just ride it out and hope it goes away, call the parent and ask the parent to come and bring the rescue inhaler or to call 911,” Gomez said. “There are probably more than a few tense moments where they are trying to make the best decision, and so we were hoping we could get the undesignated albuterol inhalers in those situations in the same way we use emergency epinephrine.”
Following Gomez’s testimony, Bell said the bill would allow a child who may not have his or her own inhaler to allow a nurse to prescribe one when necessary. He also said albuterol asthma inhalers were less dangerous than EpiPens.
“I appreciate school nurses bringing this to my attention,” Bell said. “Ms. Gomez testified that there were approximately 10 instances where an inhaler wasn’t available last year, just in Albemarle. That’s 10 times too many.”
The bill passed through the subcommittee, 6-0, and was taken up by the full Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee on Tuesday, where it was reported to the House floor, 20-0-2 with two members absent.