A newly released North Carolina General Assembly study shows that meeting requirements for school nurses statewide could cost the state $79 million every year.
The study breaks down how many nurses districts across the state would need, based on recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The Academy's recommendation was originally 1 nurse for every 750 students, but changed that recommendation to one nurse per every school.
Right now, many districts are falling short of both guidelines, including several schools in the Triad.
The district that needs the most nurses is Guilford County Schools, with a need for 90 more nurses to have one nurse for school.
"We have one nurse for 1,975 students at this time," explains Susan Hawks. "That's our current ratio."
Hawks is the lead supervisor for the School Health Nursing Program for Guilford County. She says they average about 1 nurse for every three schools in the district, meaning nurses will split their time between schools. To fill the gaps, nurses have been training teachers and other staff to handle basic care and other medical emergencies.
"In every school building they are spending eight hours and 20 minutes each day providing healthcare needs when we're not in the building," Hawks says. What she means is that collectively, the staff who are trained to help students if a nurse is not there, are spending more than eight hours every school day dealing with duties the school nurses would typically handle.
But despite the discrepancies, Hawks says she's confident in the level of care they provide to students.
"Parents also know that is our priority and we do everything we can to insure that safety by obtaining care plans, medications needed for the students and to train the school staff to care for those students," Hawks explains.
Guilford County Commissioners approved a budget for four additional nurses in the school system for the 2017-2018 school year. Hawks says she'd love to grow her staff even more. She says they're working to do more in the classroom with students when it comes to health lessons. They're also planning an immunization clinic for 6th grade students this spring to help prepare the students for 7th grade.
The Forsyth County Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the school nurses program for Winston-Salem Forsyth County schools, is also trying to reach the one nurse to one school guideline.
Caren Jenkins, who runs the program, says they've requested 8 additional nurses for County Commissioners to add to next year's budget. For the time being, they're trying to allocate the nurses they do have to the schools with the most medical needs. At the very least, Jenkins says they hope to put one school nurse in every elementary school.
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