A decision made by the Georgia House of Representatives on March 17 has provided a glimmer of hope for school nurses, although the quest to fund the school nurse program is far from over.
“I am pleased to see state funding put back in the budget with only a 3 percent cut,” said Jeannie Edwards, school nurse in Dawson County and director of the Georgia Association of School Nurses.
Last week, the House approved $29,000,000 million for the 2010 fiscal year school nurse program.
She advises that the funding passing through the House is just one of several steps the funding will need to be approved for it to actually be provided for the coming year.
According to Edwards, the 3 percent cut of the state funds will mean Dawson County could see a loss of about a couple thousand dollars.
“Monies are tight everywhere,” Edwards said. “Money for school nurses was put in by the House, now we need to work the Senate. To keep our funding in the budget all the way through the process, we need your help and we need it today.”
With the Senate still to make a decision, Edwards said: “We have our work cut out for us.”
Just as she has suggested before, Edwards encourages those who want to see the funding remain in the budget to contact the Senators on the education appropriation sub-committee and voiced their opinion and concern for the necessity of the funding to ensure continuation of the program.
“We need to continue to keep this issue out there and expressing the importance of keeping nurses in schools,” Edwards said. “People don’t need to get comfortable just yet. The funding still has to be approved by the Senate and the governor.”
Edwards, who has been a nurse in the county school system for 18 years, added that the final decision on the funding will not be made until June.
When Gov. Sonny Perdue proposed his amended 2009 budget earlier this year, the $30 million that had previously been appropriated to fund school nursing was not included.
Without the state funding, the program would essentially become a thing of the past, and since the proposed budget was announced, Edwards has been on a quest to see to it that the health of Georgia’s students remains a priority.
She has been to Atlanta and met with several legislators, state representatives, as well as the governor, advocating for “her kids:” — all of the students in Georgia’s school systems.
“We had a positive response from the House committee. They do believe that healthy children learn better,” Edwards said.
She continued to say that in the past several weeks, during her trips to the nation and state capitols included giving testimonies to committees, in an effort to give those voting, on whether or not to approve the funding, a glimpse into what is required of a school nurse.
Her testimonies included how children now face more complex and life threatening health problems, requiring care in schools throughout the day, sometimes several times a day.
“I think that some people don’t realize that kids are different now than they were several years ago,” Edwards said. “Nurses provide a critical safety net to our state’s most fragile children in the schools.”
“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 medications during the school day.
Among the many ailments they see are asthma, seizures, heart disorders and life-threatening allergies.
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 availability 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,” he added.
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.
“In the big picture, this is not about money, but rather the lives of our children,” Edwards said.
“We owe this to our children. It is our purpose to make sure that this issue (school nurse funding) is not slighted by the leaders we have elected.”
E-mail Elizabeth Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.