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School board opts to keep health department nurses

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Decision a relief for health director and his budget

By BEN CARLSON

The Anderson County Board of Health gambled that the school district would continue funding its school nurses when it hesitatingly approved its budget last month.
The decision paid off last Thursday night when the Anderson County Board of Education voted unanimously to continue funding the school nurse program, despite a slight drop in the number of nurses the health department will provide.
The school board approved $121,360 for what amounts to 4.5 school nurses in the coming school year, the same amount it paid last year for five nurse positions.
Health Director Tim Wright said he was pleased with the decision.
 “That is what I budgeted and exactly what I got,” Wright said after the meeting.
“If that had not been approved, I would have had to modify my budget.”
The board of health, which was required to approve its budget last month, expressed deep concerns that if the school district lowered what it would pay for the service, it would have deep impact on an already shaky budget that was shortchanged nearly $150,000 last year in Medicaid payments by a private insurer.
Wright said the bulk of the unpaid Medicaid charges came from nursing services in the school district.
That loss forced the board of health to cut the funds it provides for school nurses from $50,000 last year to $18,000 this year, which is part of the reason Wright proposed cutting half the hours of one full-time nurse for the school district in the coming year.
The school board listened to several options provided by Superintendent Sheila Mitchell, including hiring a private company to provide nurses or the district hiring nurses of its own.
Mitchell said hiring 4.5 nurses would cost the district an estimated $240,000 a year, and that the same amount of nurses through a private vendor would be $137,812. Had the school board opted for private nurses, Mitchell said the company would be open to hiring health department nurses to fill those positions.
Board member Roger McDowell questioned if the school district could have fewer nurses.
“How can we get by with four [nurses?” McDowell asked Wright. “How can we get by with three? You can only have what you can pay for, and the school population has stopped growing.”
“We can research that,” Wright responded.
After the meeting, Wright said the 4.5 nurses already means one of the district’s five campuses, excluding the Phoenix Academy, will not have a full-time nurse.
With children needing a variety of services including catherization and other medical needs, he’s not sure how that would work.
“Honestly, I don’t know if that will work or not,” Wright said. “I would need to meet with my school nurse supervisor about that and monitor it during this fiscal year.
“I do know that a nurse would have to be on call for different medical needs at the different schools, and that they’d have to drop routine coverage to take care of a more serious situation.
“This goes well beyond saying here’s a Tylenol.”
Wright said the district made a good decision to keep health department nurses instead of hiring a private agency.
“Now, the parents and kids know the nurses and the nurses know them,” Wright said. “I we didn’t have that, they would have an unknown person the parent or child might not feel comfortable with.”