Some public schools lack health aides, DOE says

Several Hawaii schools have no health aides, DOE says

EWA BEACH, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nathan Sterling has a big problem, and it's not the scrape on his five year-old son's knee.

Yesterday, after the child suffered the abrasion at Pohakea Elementary School in Ewa Beach, he went to the health room to receive care.

He instead received none.

A fill-in clerk simply gave him a swab and a band-aid then sent him back to class.

"He's five years old, he's in kindergarten. He doesn't know how to properly clean his cut" Sterling told Hawaii News Now.

When Sterling spoke to the fill in clerk, the feedback was less than impressive.

"So I said, 'you're not a certified health aide?' she said 'no'. So I said 'did you clean out my son's cut?' She said 'no'".

After speaking to the fill-in clerk on the phone, he called the school's principal, Judy Wong.

"I said, 'so is anyone in your school CPR, first aid, or even AED trained? anyone in this school?' She said 'no'".

Sterling noted the obvious implications.

"What if somebody had a heart attack? Kids can have heart attacks. What if somebody fell down, hit their head, had a concussion? It takes anywhere from 5-20 minutes for an ambulance to get there. They're just going to stand there and wait?"

"While it starts off with a scrape, it's a huge issue," said Sen. Jill Tokuda (D), the Senate Education Committee Chair. She said the state Health Department used to be in charge of health aides at schools, until the responsibility was given to the DOE about ten years ago.

The requirements to be a public school health aide?

"It's a high school diploma, it's first aid certification, Red Cross training -- and that's really what's required," said Tokuda.

She believes that's not enough considering that there are many more medical issues, such as diabetes, coming up in school. there are also new medical technologies.

"It's definitely not what we had ten, 20, 30 years ago where it was just band aids and ointment," she said.

Principal Wong stated that the fill-in clerk had been reprimanded for the unsatisfactory medical care. She also said she was waiting for the new health aide to start.

The Department of Education sent a statement to Hawaii News Now, reading as follows:

"Currently, 22 schools are actively recruiting health aides; 16 of them have temporary hires. In the majority of our schools, there are at least two individuals on campus who are trained in administering first aid and CPR."

Pohakea Elementary is not one of them. For Sterling, the greater issue looms.

"It's not just my kid. It's any keiki out there that could be at risk."

According to Tokuda, discussions have been underway with the DOE about ways to improve first aid and medical care at schools, including partnering with clinics or using telemedicine.

"You worry about every little scrape, you worry about what could potentially happen," said Tokuda, "So we're taking it real seriously."

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