School nurse Lisa Patch worried that she wouldn’t have the necessary medication on hand to treat a student suffering a severe – and possibly fatal – allergic reaction.
State law prevented schools from stocking such medication unless it had been prescribed to the student previously. That means the child would have to wait for emergency responders to rush to the school.
Would they get there in time?
It was that concern that led Patch, who is president of the New Mexico School Nurses Association, and her group to successfully push for legislation this year allowing schools to stock epinephrine, used to treat anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can cause death, and albuterol, used to treat asthma.
But not all school districts – including Albuquerque Public Schools – are eager to stock the medications.
That’s in part because a clause in the bill protecting schools from civil lawsuits was removed at the request of the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association and Foundation.
It’s possible a school could be sued if a nurse or a trained employee failed to give the drug properly or if the school didn’t store the medication properly, said Dick Minzner, a lawyer and lobbyist at the Rodey law firm who studied the law.
Minzner also said it’s possible a school could be sued if a student suffered a severe allergic reaction, and the school didn’t have the medications in stock.
“I expect there could be a lawsuit in either case, not that it would necessarily prevail,” Minzner said.
The new law, which takes effect July 1, allows school nurses to give the medications to students suffering an attack or reaction, even if they have never been diagnosed with asthma or a severe allergy. It also allows nurses to give the drugs to diagnosed students who don’t have their prescribed medication at school, and permits other school employees to give epinephrine if they have undergone training.
Albuquerque Public Schools policy analyst Carrie Robin Menapace said school officials have some concerns about stocking the medications.
One concern is the lack of immunity and another is that the program is unfunded, Menapace said last month when she briefed the board on the recent legislative session.
Menapace also said that stocking medications is a bigger issue for rural schools, where emergency response times are often longer than at urban schools.
She said the issue will come before the APS board for more discussion, but it hasn’t yet.
Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, who sponsored the bill, said he and the nurse’s association didn’t fight removal of the legal immunity clause, because they wanted the bill to pass.
The possibility of a lawsuit will help ensure schools do a good job of creating a protocol for storing and administering the drugs as required under the law, said Kris Bogardus, president of the trial lawyers association.
Patch, nurse for Alamogordo Public Schools, said epinephrine is given to students through an auto-injector that looks like a pen. She said it is a relatively easy procedure, and the shot can be delivered to most parts of the body. If a student was given the shot mistakenly, his or her heart might race, but they would in all likelihood be fine, Patch said.
A fourth of students who suffer severe and life-threatening allergic reactions weren’t previously diagnosed with a food allergy, according to a summary of the legislation.
“It’s not the kids with prescriptions I worry about so much, it’s the 25 percent of the students that haven’t had a (severe allergic reaction) before,” said Patch.
Moores said there are drug companies that have programs in which they provide schools with free medication. The law allows schools to receive these medications as gifts, he said.