Sometimes it takes a tragedy for action to be taken in a certain area. The residents of Chesterfield County experienced just that back in January when a 1st grader died while in school due to an allergic reaction which caused an anaphylactic shock. The death may have been avoided if an emergency injection of Epinephrine, colloquially know as an Epipen, had been immediately available. Unfortunately by law the school could not maintain a stock of Epipens unless the child had a doctor’s prescription and the parent had brought it and the Epipen to the school for them to use in an emergency and that could only be used on that specific child.
The Chesterfield County School System had several procedures in place at the time to handle food related allergies. According to Shawn Smith, spokesman for Chesterfield County Schools, back in July 2011 they had mailed to every household who had enrolled a child in the school system, a letter outlining their policies regarding allergies and what parents needed to do to ensure the safety of their child. Parents were also instructed on how to have their child’s medication on hand at the school. At the beginning of the current school year the school system counted in excess of 58,000 students enrolled but only 639 were registered with allergies that would possibly put them at risk. Mr. Smith also said that since the January tragedy more than 40 families have registered their children as allergic and have taken the steps to protect them.
Very quickly after the tragedy in Chesterfield two identical bills were proposed in the Virginia General Assembly to deal with the Epinephrine issue. One in the senate (SB 656) patroned by Senator Donald McEachin and the other in the house (HB 1107) patroned by Delegate Thomas Greason. They have now passed both houses and are summarized in House Bill 1107-ER:
“Requires local school boards to adopt and implement policies for the possession and administration of epinephrine in every school. The school nurse, a school employee, or an authorized and trained volunteer may administer the epinephrine to any student believed to be having an anaphylactic reaction. The bill also requires the Department of Health, in conjunction the Department of Education and the Department of Health Professionals to develop and implement policies for the recognition and treatment of anaphylaxis in the school setting.”
The bill also amends current law for anyone “who provides, administers, or assists in the administration of epinephrine to a student believed in good faith to be having an anaphylactic reaction, or is the prescriber of the epinephrine, shall not be liable for any civil damages for ordinary negligence in acts or omissions resulting from the rendering of such treatment.”
Dr. Diane Helentjaris, Director for the Office of Family Health at the Virginia Department of Health said they are aware of the bills and are working on the bill’s requirements with the other Virginia Departments. They expect to have a draft by mid-April made available for revision and a final working proposal done by mid-June and sent to the Health Commissioner for final approval. This would make the procedures and policies available around July 1 to the school systems for implementation.
However, the bill does admit in it’s impact statement, “At this time, the number of schools that would need to purchase epinephrine, and the number of school board employees that would need to be authorized and trained to administer it, are unknown; therefore, it is not possible to reliably estimate the potential fiscal impact to local school divisions resulting from the passage of this bill.”
More information for parents with students enrolled in Chesterfield County schools can be found at their website: www.mychesterfieldschools.com