“Everybody deserves good oral health. In particular, our students with disabilities. Their good oral health ties into their overall health, which affects their quality of life and their future.”
Judy Portelli, FNP-C
School Nurse Practitioner, Henry Viscardi School at The Viscardi Center
We have a wonderful community of students in our school with a wide variety of disabilities including cerebral palsy, spinal muscular atrophy, muscular dystrophy, osteogenesis imperfecta, and spina bifida, as well as disorders that are extremely rare. Our students need specialized medical care on a daily basis. This can include medication administration, pain management, respiratory treatments, urinary catheterizations, gastrostomy feedings and of course dealing with any emergencies, injuries or illnesses that may arise. But make no mistake, they are regular kids. That’s why our students love to come to school, because they can be like everybody else. They have recess, take gym, play basketball, go swimming, and participate in all kinds of activities in a community where they are accepted.
One of the most important things we do, from the moment they get here, is teach our children how to be independent, especially about their healthcare. As needed, we teach them how to catheterize, do gastrostomy feeds, know their disabilities, and manage their own medications. These kids are amazing because they absolutely want to be independent with their own care. We had one child who we were teaching how to self-catheterize in stages. She mastered stages one and two. She was so motivated that, even before we could get to teach her stages three and four, she figured it out herself. Incredible!
Of course, it’s not an easy path for our students to achieve this independence, when they face all kinds of obstacles to access health care, in particular, dental care. For example, some of our students are in large power wheelchairs and most offices are not able to accommodate them. There also can be a lack of practitioner experience, with a limited number of doctors and dentists who have been trained to work with people with our disabilities.
Despite how difficult this becomes for our students and families, I believe with more easily accessible healthcare, change is possible. We had a student with chronic lung disease who could not get to her pulmonologist. When a pulmonologist opened in her community, that was both accessible for her chair and where they spoke her parents’ language, her frequency of having pneumonia dropped from three times a year to then only once in three years.
I also would like to see dental reimbursement made as easy as medical reimbursement. Dental care is just as important as medical care. If you go to the emergency room and you have a broken bone, no one is going to open up your chart and say, “Wow, this is your seventh broken bone of the year. I’m sorry, we can’t cover this, “which is what happens with dental care.
Everybody deserves good oral health. In particular, our students with disabilities. Their good oral health ties into their overall health, which affects their quality of life and their future. We want our students’ future to be as successful as possible.