From today’s Sentinel:

Schools may lose nurses to budget cuts
By Winston Jones
Staff Writer

Douglas County School System’s school nurse program faces an uncertain future if Gov. Sonny Perdue follows through with plans to cut $30 million from state school nurse funding.

Perdue’s proposed budget eliminates all state funds for school nurses, leaving the county systems to find the money elsewhere or lay off nurses.

“We don’t know what it will do to our program yet,” School Supt. Don Remillard said Thursday. “We might possibly keep some nurses, but it’s possible that all could be laid off.”

The school system currently employs seven registered nurses (RN) who serve four to six schools each.

No federal laws require nurses in schools. However, guidelines recommend a nurse-to-student ratio is 1 to 750. The national average is about 1 to 1,151. Douglas, and most other Georgia counties, are already far behind this ratio. Douglas has a ratio of about 1 to 3,700 after adding two new nurses this school year.

Zach Spencer, school athletic and safety director who supervises the program, said the county school nursing program gets the majority of its funding, about $400,000 each year, from the state school nursing funds.

“It’s a great concern to us,” Spencer said Friday. “They provide a valuable service to our students and schools. It’s going to be a difficult situation for school systems everywhere.”

Spencer said school nurses perform such duties as providing treatment of students with various medical conditions, teaching CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and first aid and training health monitors in each school to dispense medications and perform minor first aid.

“Health conditions have become more complex,” said Douglas County school nurse Kathy Sheriff, who was named the 2008-2009 Georgia School Nurse of the Year by the Georgia Association of School Nurses. “We have to do individual health plans for students with complex medical problems, such as asthma, diabetes, severe allergic reactions, sickle cell anemia and seizure disorders. We have done more than 300 health plans this year.”

Sheriff said a health plan covers “everything that needs to happen during the school day to accommodate the student, including medications, classroom modifications, how to keep him/her safe and how to respond to emergencies the student might have.”

She said the plan also details all the student’s medical history and contact numbers.

“None of our school nurses are recent graduates,” she said. “All were hand selected from years of nursing experience and what they could bring to our school system. Our nurses have the ability to talk with the medical community and serve as a bridge between the school and the healthcare community.”

Sheriff noted that a child’s life was saved at Chestnut Log Middle School last year after trained teachers used a defibrillator to restart the boy’s heart.

“We had just finished training teachers and staff at the school in CPR, first aid and defibrillator usage,” she said.

She said the school nurse program has also worked with Children’s Health Care of Atlanta to donate masks and tubing so that children with asthma can take nebulizer treatments at school and avoid missing classroom time due to illness.

Georgia has provided funding for school nurses since 2001, with money that came from a variety of sources including tax revenue and the landmark, billion-dollar tobacco settlement between the cigarette companies and many states.

Georgia School Supt. Kathy Cox told lawmakers at a budget hearing last Wednesday that the plan to eliminate school nurse funding worries her more than any other proposed cut.

“For medically fragile children, whether it’s diabetes or asthma, schools nurses play a vital role,” Cox said.

School PTAs and the Georgia Association of School Nurses have started a letter-writing campaign, urging parents to contact the governor and their state legislators to continue state funding of school nurse programs.

–Associated Press contributed to this article.

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