Deal brings nurses to 20 city high schools

Health, education officials strike compromise, agree to share $1.5 million cost

October 05, 2004|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

City health and school officials came to a compromise yesterday that will make nurses available at 20 city high schools that have been operating without them since the beginning of the school year.

The city health department and the school system agreed to each pay a portion of the $1.5 million cost of providing the nurses, who were cut this summer in a cost-saving move. The exact amount each will contribute is being worked out.

The health department will begin recruiting nurses, while the school system begins to look at ways to save money by having schools share nurses, said Gayle Amos, who oversees student support services for the system.

"We are in agreement. We know we have to pay more. They have a deficit and so do we. We are compromising, but we are not compromising on the service to kids," Amos said.

Requests for help

In the past several weeks, parents and school principals have sent complaints and requests for help to the central office, asking for medical support at their schools.

Principals have had to dispense medications to sick students, a violation of a state regulation that requires a registered nurse to oversee such medical care. Schools also have had to call 911 for minor problems, such as a student passing out, because there was no medical staff to respond to an emergency.

The 20 schools lost their nurses because of a $1.5 million shortfall in the city health department budget, about half of it caused by reductions in state medical and welfare funds that pass through the city.

In addition, the health department said it could no longer continue to cover a $400,000 annual shortfall in the school system's portion of the program. The system had failed to come up with the amount for several years, and the health department had stepped in to cover the gap.

The health department notified the system over the summer that it wouldn't be able to provide all of the nurses or nurses' aides for the $10.6 million nursing program.

Temporary solution

Last week, the system decided to hire temporary nurses at a cost of $4,000 a day to fill the void. Amos said the nurses or nurses' aides should be in every school by the end of today, but that the system could not afford to continue the contract for the rest of the school year.

Besides agreeing to pick up a portion of the cost for the permanent nurses, Amos said the system is looking at schools in the same complex that could share nurses. A number of new, smaller schools have opened in empty space at existing schools in the past several years.

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