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School nurses at risk

State plan could eliminate program

POSTED: February 4, 2009 4:00 a.m.
Photo/Elizabeth Hamilton/

School nurse Beth Skinner, left, helps Kilough Elementary second-grader Austin Rhoades, a diabetic, check his blood sugar. Rhoades is one of several students Skinner sees on a daily basis.

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A proposal that would eliminate state funding for school nurses worries Rebecca Rhoades.

  

“I am in great turmoil over the thought that the government wants to take away my peace of mind about my child during the school day,” said Rhoades, whose diabetic son Austin attends Kilough Elementary.

  

Kilough’s nurse, Beth Skinner, sees the second-grader at least four times a day to check his blood sugar or administer insulin.

  

“This, by far, has been the most successful and stress-free school year [we] have experienced,” Rebecca Rhoades said.

  

But under Gov. Sonny Perdue’s fiscal year 2009 amended state budget, school nurses could become a thing of the past.

  

The governor’s proposal would cut $30 million in state funds for school    nursing services in Georgia, essentially eliminating the program.

  

Jeannie Edwards has spent 18 years as a school nurse in Dawson County. She’s also the director of the Georgia Association of School Nurses, which is working to preserve the funding.

  

According to Edwards, school clinics in Dawson handled 33,000 visits last year. Of those, just 1,700 resulted in the student going home.

  

“About 95 percent of students were able to remain in school due to the availablity of a full-time nurse,” she said. 

  

Dawson County School Superintendent Nicky Gilleland said a loss of state funding would force the district to share nurses between schools or cut back on their hours.

  

“This would have a ripple effect on attendance and the state mandates of attendance,” Gilleland said.

  

“The majority of the students go back to class after seeing the nurse, when otherwise they would probably go home.”

  

Edwards said school nurses also provide health care to teachers and staff.

  

“By doing his/her job, a school nurse can assist students and teachers with health care needs, which allows the teachers to do their job and teach,” she said.

  

Edwards said Dawson County receives about $75,000 in state funding for school nurses, but that’s just a fraction of what’s needed to fund the program.

  

Northside Hospital, Big Canoe and United Way are a few of the local organizations that have helped cover the funding gap.

  

Statewide, school systems have had to rely on local governments and community organizations to make up the difference. Those sources also have been affected by the economic downturn.

  

“Without the $30 million, we will most likely lose many school nurse positions [statewide],” Edwards said. “Consequently, it would have a tremendous adverse affect on children’s school attendance, safety and academic achievement.”

  

She described the situation as “pulling the rug out from underneath us.”

  

“I think that some people don’t realize that kids are different now than they were several years ago,” Edwards said.

  

“We are not just providing first aid. We have more and more children with special health care needs that require attention several times a day.”

  

Statewide, school nurses are responsible for monitoring diabetic assessments, feeding tubes and catheterizations, as well as helping with breathing equipment.

  

They also must handle chronic health care conditions and administer prescription medication during the school day.

  

Among the many ailments they see are asthma, seizures, heart disorders and life-threatening allergies.

  

Edwards has met with Perdue and legislators in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

  

“It is our purpose to make sure that this issue is not slighted by the leaders we have elected,” she said of the association.

  

“The $30 million should be reinstated for the school nurse program because the local governments cannot absorb anymore, they are already supporting 80 percent of the program.”

  

E-mail Elizabeth Hamilton at elizabeth@dawsonnews.com.

 

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