Wednesday, September 5, 2012

School nurse sharing raises concerns

By Nick Tabor, New Era Senior Staff Writer
In the last two weeks, since classes started at Crofton Elementary School, Donna Crick has often asked the school nurse in the mornings whether she would be at the school all day.
“She just tells me she’s there until she hears different,” Crick recalled on Friday.
Crick’s 7-year-old daughter Kaylie was diagnosed with diabetes earlier this year. When she thinks of Kaylie’s blood sugar dropping so low she falls over or goes into a coma, Crick seizes up with fear. She knows it would take an ambulance a long time to reach Crofton from Hopkinsville.
Lately she’s had trouble sleeping.
When facing a budget shortfall in June, the Christian County Board of Health asked the school system to contribute more funding for nurses. It presented two options for staffing levels based on how much the schools would give.
Of the total cost — about $1.05 million a year — the schools could contribute $300,000 and keep the same number of nurses. Or they could pay $245,000 and have at least one nurse position cut.
The board of education opted to pay $245,000.
Based on data of student needs and the distances between schools, the health department tentatively decided Crofton and Lacy elementary schools should share a nurse.
Crick has collected at least 383 petition signatures asking for a full-time nurse in each school. But she hasn’t submitted it to anyone in power, and regardless, neither the education or health boards seem likely to budge.
However, Beth Campbell, the school nursing supervisor, says both schools are thoroughly prepared for emergencies. She sees no need to worry.
Crofton’s groundswell
Crick can’t speak for many Lacy parents, but the news that Crofton Elementary would no longer have a full-time nurse caused a stir in her small town, she said. In addition to a school open house at which Crick’s petition circulated up through parents in the bleachers, she has gathered signatures wherever she’s gone in public, such as Walmart.
The petition outlines the situation in a few sentences and concludes, “PLEASE help us get a nurse back at Crofton full time.”
Crick spoke last week at a meeting of the Christian County Board of Education. She offered to show board members the petition signatures, but after the meeting no one asked. She still hopes it will somehow serve her purpose.
“Just let ’em know that we mean business and we ain’t going to take it lying down,” she said.
She worries about how long it would take to reach Crofton Elementary for an emergency. On those country roads, drivers can always get stuck behind tractors, log trucks, horse-drawn buggies and other slow-moving vehicles, Crick said.
“You just never know, out here, how long it’s going to take to get somewheres,” she said.
According to need
Campbell said she’ll reconfigure the staffing if she needs to. If it becomes more expedient for different schools to share a nurse, she’ll reassign someone.
“Basically they’re going to be taken care of according to need,” she said.
She compared data on student visits to school nurses while choosing the current arrangement.
The Christian County Health Department only took on responsibility for the school nurse program in 2009. Before then, when the school system handled it independently, Crofton and Lacy didn’t have full-time nurses, Campbell said. The students got along fine, though they didn’t have any diabetics in 2009, she said.
For the first two weeks of the year, Campbell has brought in nurses from the health department clinic so every school could have a full-time nurse. She wanted operations to stabilize before she cut back. But whatever sharing system she implements, it will likely take effect this week, she said.
Whenever a school nurse is away, Campbell or someone else on her staff will always be ready to take emergency calls, she said. And staff members at every school are trained on emergency procedures.
Though it’s optimal to have a full-time nurse everywhere, she doesn’t think this cutback will shortchange any families.
“I have the same expectations for their kids that I do my own,” she said. “Every student is well taken care of, and I’m going to make sure they’re safe and have everything they need.”
Funding debates
In a phone interview on Friday, Barry Cornelius, education board chairman, said it’s all up to the Christian County Health Department to decide how many nurses to employ.
He doubts the education board will consider giving extra funding.
But at a meeting last week, Health Department Director Mark Pyle told the board of health the schools knew what they were getting when they chose the cheaper package. When parents call the health department to complain, staff members tell them to complain to the school board instead, Pyle said.
“It’s my thinking that the school board’s going to come back to us and opt for option one,” he said, referring to the more expensive package. “They’re getting a lot of phone calls.”
Mary Ann Gemmill, the district superintendent, does not have a direct role in the decision. But the situation doesn’t worry her, district spokeswoman Heather Aubin said in an email statement.
“Seeing that each student’s health needs are met,  was assured to us, after the CC Health Department did a health assessment of our school district,” the statement reads. “Ms. Gemmill trusts the expertise of the CC Health Department and in turn, knows that CC Health Department (nurses) will meet the health needs of our students.”

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