New Curriculum for School Nurses Helps Them Deal With Students' Trauma Symptoms After Hurricane Katrina

Disaster response training on mental and behavioral health skills for school health nurses

From March 2007 through November 2009, staff at the Louisiana Public Health Institute provided training to Louisiana's school health nurses to improve their capacity to assess behavioral problems among students, conduct primary interventions, make efficient referrals to community health services and work more effectively with parents.

The unprecedented demand for these services resulted from the impact of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Research suggested that as many as half of the children in the hardest-hit areas could suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Meeting their needs was complicated by the substantial loss of mental health professionals in the New Orleans area.

Key Results:

  • Under a subcontract, the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Department of Psychiatry designed a curriculum, "School Nurse Disaster Training," which focused on mental health issues experienced by children after a disaster. Louisiana State University's School of Nursing later revised that curriculum, renamed it "Trauma to Triumph" and offered continuing education credits for participation.
  • A total of 503 people—304 school health nurses and 199 other school health personnel, social workers and community partners—received training from Louisiana Public Health Institute staff and its academic partners. Posttests indicated that the training helped nurses feel more confident in their ability to work with trauma victims. A follow-up survey five months after one training found that nurses had retained their knowledge of trauma symptoms and psychological first aid.
  • Twenty-three school health nurses attended a resiliency-training workshop during the first year of the grant. Later, resiliency training was incorporated into the "Trauma to Triumph" curriculum.
  • The Louisiana Public Health Institute published a guide for teachers and a guide for parents based on the curriculum. The toolkits were designed to help school health nurses assist parents and teachers recognize signs of post-traumatic stress in children. The toolkits contained handouts, sample referral forms and sample screening tools.
  • The Louisiana Public Health Institute contracted with the Red Cross to train 36 school health nurses and eight school social workers to take leadership roles in preventing the spread of pandemic flu. The Red Cross also hosted an event for its community partners that included a presentation about how schools can prepare for crises, and staff set up displays on hurricane preparedness in nine school-based health centers.
  • To increase access to resources in the community, staff at the Louisiana Public Health Institute:
    • Hosted two "meet and greet" events that gave 145 school health nurses and other school personnel opportunities to meet mental health specialists. All participants reported meeting people at these events who would make it easier for them to make referrals for students.
    • Enrolled all nurses attending a training session in a behavioral health listserv.
    • Continued to distribute the School Mental and Behavioral Health Resource Guide for the New Orleans Metropolitan Area, an electronic directory of free and low-cost social services, to school health personnel.
  • Staff at the Louisiana Public Health Institute made presentations about the training at the National Assembly for School-Based Health Centers at Xavier University of Louisiana's third annual conference on health disparities and at the annual meeting of the Louisiana School Nurse Organization. Institute staff is submitting a journal article about the training for publication.